On this date…

christiancyOn September 8, 1890, Big Four Justice Isaac Christiancy died. He was 78 years old. He passed away just six months after fellow Big Four Justice James V. Campbell. Christiancy had resigned from the Court fifteen years earlier, upon his appointment to the U.S. Senate in 1875. He did not stay in Washington, D.C. for long. A scandal involving a woman led to his resignation, and President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him U.S. Minister to Peru in 1879. One of the more interesting lines from Justice Christiancy’s memorial, printed in the Michigan Reports of the time: “After serving as senator he entered the more difficult field of diplomacy. Appointed minister to Peru, he saw that unfortunate people forced to succumb to the superior powers of Chili.” (emphasis added for effect — it was in fact the beginning of the War of the Pacific, fought by Peru and Bolivia on one side and Chile on the other, not a problem with hearty bean stew that befell his time there).  In 1881, Justice Christiancy returned to Lansing to resume the practice of law and it is there he lived until his death on this date 126 years ago.

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Society members received the summer newsletter in their mailboxes this week. You can read the articles online here. But, we encourage you to join the Society to support our work of preserving the history of Michigan’s legal heritage. To start a new membership or renew the one you already have, please visit this link. As a 501(c)(3), contributions including membership dues are tax-deductible!

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Lansing History

cahill-assistantLast week I put aside the summer newsletter that we are designing to stop by the Scott Sunken Garden in downtown Lansing. The property was once the home of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Edward Cahill (written about on this blog earlier this year). That day, August 3rd, just so happened to be the 173rd birthday of Cahill. As I had yet to visit the threatened space, my daughter and I ventured over. In the background of the photo from that day, between the trees, is a view of the Boji Tower where the Fraser firm is located. That firm was founded by another Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Rollin Person, in 1883. Upon Justice Person’s death, Cahill had this to say about his friend “…but whether he was with me or against me I could but admire the careful diligence with which he looked after the interests of his clients.” (Read the rest of the Special Session here)

The address of the property is 125 W Malcolm X St, Lansing, Michigan 48933, and shares a parking lot with the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame, where several of our women justices have been honored.

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Justice Johnson

On this date 130 years ago, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Johnson died after a lingering illness caused by blood poisoning from a scratched finger.

Besides serving on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1852 to 1857, Johnson was active in the fight to move the state capitol from Detroit to central Michigan.

Learn more about this historic justice on his official biography page here.

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Emerson R. Boyles

OnEmerson Boyles Official Portrait this date in 1881, future Michigan Supreme Court Justice Emerson R. Boyles was born near Charlotte, Michigan. Boyles worked his way up from prosecuting attorney to probate judge to deputy attorney general under William Potter (who he later would succeed onto the Michigan Supreme Court). Boyles was also quite notable for having authored the Michigan Criminal Index, Probate Blanks, and Probate Manual, as well as supervising the Compiled Laws of 1929 — he is shown holding a copy of that book in his official portrait. Boyles served on the Michigan Supreme Court from August 8, 1940 to December 31, 1956. He was replaced on the Court by another justice well known for his writing skills: John Voelker.

Read the transcript of Justice Boyles’ post-humous portrait dedication on September 8, 1982. Boyles died on November 30, 1960.


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The People’s Lawyer

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.

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School’s Out for Summer

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.


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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.



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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





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Luncheon Recap

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!

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