Thomas G. Kavanagh

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Served from 1969 through 1984
Chief Justice: 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979

Oral History

Thomas G. Kavanagh was born on August 14, 1917, in Bay City, Michigan. He attended the University of Detroit High School and received his A.B. degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1938. Kavanagh then attended the Detroit College of Law and received his LL.B. in 1943.

Kavanagh’s career as a judge began in 1964, when he was elected to the Michigan Court of Appeals. His career advanced in 1968, when he was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court. In 1976, the Democratic Party nominated someone else. But with overwhelming support from the State Bar and the general public, Kavanagh won re-election by a landslide.

In 1969, the Court had two Thomas Kavanaghs: Thomas Matthew Kavanagh of Carson City, and Thomas Giles Kavanagh of Troy, no relation. Nicknames were given to distinguish the two Justices. Thomas Matthew Kavanagh, the hard driving, politically astute, long-time Chief Justice was aptly called “Thomas The Mighty.” Thomas Giles Kavanagh was known as “Thomas The Good.”

Kavanagh was fond of saying that “the members of the Court through sheer happenstance and the vicissitudes of politics, ambition, age, health, and geography had been thrown together like survivors sharing a single life raft, and it was our task and our duty to work together for the common benefit.” He demonstrated that spirit of cooperation in a thousand ways through his long and productive judicial career.

Thomas G. Kavanagh died on February 20, 1997. (Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Reports: Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of Michigan. Rochester, N.Y.: Lawyers Co-Operative Publishing Co., 1949–1998, Vol. 447.)

Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
August 30, 1994

Portrait Artist:
Knecht, Sam

Egg tempera

41 3/4″ X 29 3/4″

Owned by:
State of Michigan

Current location:
Hall of Justice – 6th Floor:
Justice Viviano’s Suite

Portrait photo by:
Doug Elbinger, Lansing – June 1996