Last Fall, former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley released his autobiography The People’s Lawyer: The Life and Times of Frank J. Kelley, the Nation’s Longest-Serving Attorney General, written with Jack Lessenberry. For those who have had the pleasure of knowing Frank Kelley, you will recognize his storytelling style immediately. For the rest of the population — and in particular those who do not yet know his legacy in Michigan — I hope that you will read this book. It is “living history” in the truest sense of the term.
Born in Detroit on December 31, 1924, Frank Kelley not only lived through an important time in our state and nation’s history, but was also instrumental in helping to shape that history. During the 37 years that Frank Kelley served as Michigan’s Attorney General, he transformed that office from a political stepping stone into a state entity that worked for the people, crusading for consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental regulation. He served with five Governors, and describes in vivid yet never boring detail the separation of powers between these elected offices.
This book is as rich as the history that Frank Kelley has lived. For those who are interested in Michigan’s legal history it is a must-read. But it is as a call to service that I most highly recommend it. Frank Kelley gives practical examples of how he managed a political career that spanned nearly four decades without even the whiff of a political scandal. These are lessons by which we all can benefit from learning.
He ends the book by writing, “You may not realize it, but old men have dreams, too, and here’s mine: that some young person will read these words and think: Wow. This guy spent his life in public service…. And he helped make people’s lives better.”
Buy the book here
Read about the Eternal General here — an article that mentions Frank Kelley’s service to the Society’s Board of Directors since 1999
Listen to Frank Kelley’s oral history here
Frank Kelley is shown here presenting the Society’s Law Prize to a student at the MSU College of Law in 2012.
For many students in Michigan, today was the last day of school. For others, that day is right around the corner. Parents and caregivers who wish to support their children’s civic education during this break may want to consider downloading our lesson plans for middle school and high school students to do at home. The lesson plans were created by teachers and would cover two weeks’ worth of classes in a traditional school setting.
And… an option for all students –in particular elementary schoolers– is to take a tour of the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center at the Hall of Justice in Lansing. You can do this in person or virtually! To learn more about the Learning Center, visit their website here.
Until the Big Four, portraits of the justices were not a regular tradition with the Michigan Supreme Court. The last of the Big Four to have his portrait dedicated was Justice James V. Campbell on April 24, 1888.
Campbell, who died on March 26, 1890, while still in service to the Court, served for 32 years, two months and 25 days, longer than any other person in the history of Michigan. However, his record was very nearly tied by Justice Michael F. Cavanagh.
Justice Cavanagh was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1982 and served through 2014. A provision in the Michigan Constitution of 1963 prohibits anyone age 70 or older from being (re)elected or appointed to the bench. Justice Cavanagh was born in 1940 and had turned 70 before the end of his fourth term.
On May 18, 2016, the portrait of Justice Cavanagh was presented to the Michigan Supreme Court in a special session. It is the first justice’s portrait to feature the Hall of Justice in the background. Justice Cavanagh is shown here with his portrait and the artist Michael DelPriore.
Justice Charles Levin at the Society’s Annual Luncheon on April 14, 2016.
Happiest of birthdays today to Justice Charles Levin!
Justice Levin was born on this date in 1926, making him 90 years old today.
Longevity characterized his time on the Michigan Supreme Court, too.
He served on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1973 through 1996, and is one of the ten longest-serving justices in Michigan Supreme Court history.
Since 2000, Justice Levin has served on the Board of Directors of the Society. He resigned this year and has been succeeded on the Board by former Justice Mary Beth Kelly.
To read more about Justice Levin’s career and to see his official portrait, visit his biography here.
Read the transcript of his investiture ceremony here / portrait dedication here
Listen to Justice Levin’s oral history interview here
The Society’s Annual Luncheon is now… OVER! We hope you had a chance to make it out to the Detroit Athletic Club last Thursday to hear Justice Joan Larsen and State Bar of Michigan President Lori Buiteweg. Nearly 175 of you did, anyway. It was a record-breaking crowd! To learn more about it, read the Grand Rapids Legal News’ recap here.
Join or renew your membership TODAY to ensure you receive an invitation to our next event!
Invitations to this year’s Annual Luncheon, to be held at noon on Thursday, April 14 at the Detroit Athletic Club, have just gone in the mail to Society members.
The topic for this year’s event is titled: “On Michigan Supreme Court Visionaries, or @LoriBuiteweg on @MiSupremeCt #Drivingchange and #Sbmfuturelaw” with “Memories of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia” by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen.
Register online for this year’s Luncheon. We hope to see you there!
Did you know that the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center hosts a moot court program every summer for high school students? If your son or daughter is interested in a future career in the law, this program is a can’t miss! To learn more, download the application here.
The property of a former Michigan Supreme Court Justice is in the news — 126 years after his departure from the bench.
The official portrait of Justice Edward Cahill and a portion of the foundation of his former home, known as the Scott Sunken Gardens, in Lansing.
Justice Edward Cahill had one of the shortest terms on the Michigan Supreme Court; however, he succeeded Justice James V. Campbell, who was the longest-serving justice and one of the “Big Four.” Cahill served from April 1890 through the end of that year. After his electoral defeat, Cahill went into private practice with future justice Russell Ostrander.
What makes Justice Cahill newsworthy today has to do with property where his home once stood. In 1930, the new owners of the property demolished Cahill’s home to build a much larger one. Upon the foundation of Cahill’s former home, they built a sunken garden, which has been maintained by a private garden club over the decades.
To see more of the gardens, visit Preservation Lansing. They are quite a treat to see on a cold, blustery day in February when the State of Michigan is closing due to a winter storm.
The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend prompted me to review Michigan’s history of justices who have passed away while still in service to the Court.
In the early part of the last century, there was an unprecedented string of deaths of sitting Michigan Supreme Court justices. Beginning with Justice Frank Hooker’s death in 1911, ten justices died from 1911-1929. In fact, half of the justices who were sitting on the Court in 1905 would go on to die while in service to the Court. Besides Hooker, this list includes Justices Charles Austin Blair, Aaron McAlvay, and Russell Ostrander.
Of the justices who died at the end of this period, four — Ernest Snow, John Bird, Richard Flannigan, and Grant Fellows — died in the three year period of 1927-1929. Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of the day that Justice Flannigan died, and his memorial notes the unusual circumstances of these many deaths.
The last person to die as a sitting justice of the Michigan Supreme Court was Justice Blair Moody Jr. on November 26, 1982. The appointment of Moody’s successor by Governor Milliken would later be contested by incoming Governor James Blanchard, resulting in the ouster of Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley after two months and one week on the Court.
Michigan’s connections to the current Supreme Court don’t end there. Jack Lessenberry has proposed that the President appoint Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack to the vacancy created by Justice Scalia’s death; click here to listen. If it were to happen, Justice McCormack would be the third person from Michigan to ascend to the U.S. Supreme Court following Justices Henry B. Brown (1891-1906) and Frank Murphy (1940-1949).
On this date in 1928, Justice John E. Bird passed away unexpectedly at his home in Adrian, Michigan. It was another four months before the beaver felt top hat he had ordered would arrive at Mifflin’s Department Store in Lansing. Last spring, the Society acquired this hat and the box it came in.
To read more about Justice Bird’s career, visit his biography here and memorial/portrait dedication here.
Learn more about the history of the top hat here.
And to see a literal “bird in a top hat” visit this Etsy shop here.