NOVEMBER 10, 1994
CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to this special session of the Michigan Supreme Court. Always one of the Court’s most pleasant functions is the welcoming back of a member of the Court family, and a gathering of so many Court observers, former employees, participants.
Let me start out by recognizing and introducing State Representative Frank M. Fitzgerald, son of Justice JOHN W. FITZGERALD for family introductions.
REP. FRANK M. FITZGERALD: Thank you very much your Honor, and may it please the Court, it’s a pleasure for me and an honor to appear again before this Court. I might just mention, it’s the second time that I’ve been before the Michigan Supreme Court. The first time was to be sworn into the State Bar of Michigan when my father was serving on the Supreme Court. So, I come back a second time before you, now from another branch of government. It is an honor for the Fitzgerald family to be here today, and we want to give you our thanks for the opportunity to have this special session of the Court. And before we go any further, I would like to introduce the members of the immediate family of JOHN W. FITZGERALD. There’s my mother, Lorabeth Fitzgerald, my brother, Eric Fitzgerald, my brother, Adam Fitzgerald, and Lisa Sell, my wife Ruth, and our two children: Ellen Lora Fitzgerald, and, next to his Uncle Eric, John Wesley Fitzgerald.
John bears his grandfather’s name, and it is something of a tradition in the Fitzgerald family when males are born to swap the name John and Frank. Ellen, by the way, is the first female Fitzgerald to be born in our family in a hundred and nine years, so she broke something of a tradition. John Wesley is actually named for his great-great grandfather, John Wesley Fitzgerald, who served in the Michigan Legislature in the1890s. My grandfather, Frank D. Fitzgerald, was Secretary of State for two terms, and Governor of this State for two terms in the 1930s. My father’s record in state government, and then myself with the Michigan Legislature, and now serving as Speaker Pro Tempore, I guess is a way of saying that the Fitzgerald family has for some time been involved in government in different capacities in this state. But that’s not to say that my parents have driven me there. Both my mother and my father have been very supportive of everything we have done. My brother, Eric, is now working as an executive for Capitol Cities ABC Communications in New York City. My brother, Adam, is a registered architect in the state. So again, our appreciation to the Court for holding this special session today. Thank you very much.
CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: We now recognize distinguished barrister and President of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, Mr. Wallace Riley.
WALLACE RILEY: Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, Justice FITZGERALD, distinguished judges in the audience, members of the bar, and Fitzgerald family friends.
On behalf of the Board of Directors and all of the members of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, I want to thank the Court for the opportunity to appear and participate in this special session.
The members of this Court are familiar with the existence and the work of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society because you are all members of the society. For those in attendance who are not familiar, allow me to say that the society was organized as a Michigan nonprofit corporation in 1988 to preserve documents, records, memorabilia, of the Michigan Supreme Court and also to promote public education and awareness of the historical significance of our Court. As you know, there is a Bureau of History in the Office of the Secretary of State. There’s also a Michigan Historical Commission. But somehow it seemed to us that there was no real focus on things historically relating to the judicial branch of government. So the society was formed to fill that need.
We began our activities by collecting oral histories of former living Michigan Supreme Court Justices—about a dozen of them including the Honorable JOHN W. FITZGERALD. While special sessions of this Court held on ceremonial occasions are recognized and reported in the opening pages of volumes of the Michigan Reports, they weren’t indexed. So the society produced an index. Here it is. Bound as a copy of the Michigan Reports, which we give to members of the society, so that they will have a complete and functioning set of the Michigan Supreme Court reports. Annually, we hold meeting luncheons at locations around the state. We’ve been in Detroit, Southfield, Grand Rapids, next year we’ll be in Lansing, to which you all graciously are invited. Finally, we facilitate the painting and presentation of portraits of former justices as a way of recording and preserving the history of this Court. The history of this Court, and of a court, more than any other branch of government, is the history of the justices who sit on that Court. Each time a justice changes, the Court changes. So we believe it’s important not only to have a record of who sat, and what they wrote, but also to have a visual impression of the justice. And so we shall continue to promote the painting and presentation of portraits, as we have with former justices, G. MENNEN WILLIAMS, TALBOT SMITH, THOMAS GILES KAVANAGH, and now Justice JOHN W. FITZGERALD.
There are several hundred lawyers and nonlawyers, who are members of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. The Board of Directors is composed of twenty-one of those members including some former justices, one of whom is Cooley Law School Professor, JOHN W. FITZGERALD. Because this special session is, therefore, not only for one of yours, but for one of ours, we’re particularly pleased to observe with all of you another milestone, this portrait, in preserving the history of the Michigan Supreme Court.
CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: Now let me recognize an individual that I thought we had hanged for good within the last four weeks or so, former Chief Justice of this Court, the Honorable THOMAS GILES KAVANAGH.
THOMAS GILES KAVANAGH: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, distinguished justices of this Honorable Court. I saw at least one member of the Michigan Court of Appeals here, and if I’ve missed any of the other members of our One Court of Justice, I apologize. I greet the members of Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, and I greet, most warmly, Chief Justice JOHN WARNER FITZGERALD, his lovely wife Lorabeth, and their splendid family, and friends. Thank you for the opportunity of addressing you on this happy occasion, and sharing this opportunity to honor this great institution, and one of its most distinguished members.
I don’t think I’d met Judge FITZGERALD until we were both elected to the first Michigan Court of Appeals in 1964. Whether I did or not, I can tell you I’ll never forget the first time we were on opposite sides of a question. It was the first meeting of the Court of Appeals, about two weeks after the election, and before we had taken our oaths of office. The purpose was to select a Chief Judge so that we could “hit the ground running” as soon as we did take our oaths.
The meeting was at the Detroit Hunt and Fish Club, which is a beautiful place about fifteen miles or so west of Oscoda. I drove and picked up Louis McGregor in Flint, and Timothy Quinn in Caro. On the way we talked about he Chief Judge selection, and I opined that it should be one of us, whom the lawyers would know and respect, and stated that that would most likely be a circuit judge. Since both Tim and Louis were circuit judges, and the only other one was Don Holbrook, whom I didn’t really know at that time, I thought that the Chief Judge should be either Tim or Louis. They both expressed agreement with the idea, but Louis said he didn’t want it. Tim said he didn’t want it, but if the majority of the Court wanted him he would serve.
When the meeting convened, I was confident that my logic and brilliant oratory would carry the day. So I spoke first and nominated Tim Quinn. Well, I hadn’t counted on the effectiveness of JOHN WARNER FITZGERALD. He nominated our then, Lieutenant Governor, T. John Lesinski, pointing out that Ted had good friends on both sides of the aisle, and was highly regarded by almost every person in the Legislature, and that it was more important for the new court to have a friendly Legislature than the good will of the bar, which would come if we earned it. No one else was nominated and when the votes were counted, only I voted for Tim Quinn—Tim even voted for Lesinski. Needless to say, I have long felt that the decision was right. Fitz, and the others were right, and I was not.
That was my first lesson but I learned many more about Fitz and his grasp of government. Of course, he came by that honestly as has already been referred to by Representative Fitzgerald. John’s grandfather, John Wesley Fitzgerald served well in the Legislature, and so did John in his three terms in the state Senate. Now, to round out that background, Frank, John’s father, Frank D. Fitzgerald, was twice elected Governor of the State of Michigan. Now, out of the background and into the foreground, we have Frank Fitzgerald still in the Legislature, and I say, thank God.
Speaking of Governor Frank D. Fitzgerald, reminds me that my father, Giles Kavanagh, as intelligent a Democrat as I’ve ever known, became a good friend of Republican Frank D. Fitzgerald. They got well acquainted when, as a reporter for the Detroit News, my father was assigned to cover Frank Fitz’s campaign for Governor. They became so close that after his election, Governor Fitzgerald appointed Giles Kavanagh as a privy counselor, and as the beautiful certificate of appointment said, that entitled him to attend all the councils that were held in the privy during the Fitzgerald administration. My father treasured that greatly.
For most of the twenty years I was on the bench, Fitz was my colleague, first on the Court of Appeals and then on this Honorable Court. During all of those years he was a pleasure to be with and a pleasure to work with. Our association taught me a lot, and I remember one lesson particularly. In 1968, when I was nominated to run for this Court, I asked Fitz why he thought all of us on the Court of Appeals had such respect and affection for each other, and why the then Supreme Court, seemed to be constantly and publicly bickering among themselves. Knowing our differences were certainly as deep and as dearly held as any the Supreme Court had, Fitz thought for a while before answering. Then he said, our differences are all professional; they are never personal. And of course he was dead right. But there were other lessons as well, lessons in kindness. I was touched and delighted to receive a copy from JOHN WARNER FITZGERALD of a song written by H. O. Riley Clint, lyrics by Giles Kavanagh, entitled, Michigan My Michigan, which had been designated by the Legislature as the official state anthem. Seems Fitz had run across it when browsing through a bookstore. Browsing—recalls another lesson. Fitz sent me John Ciardi’s delightful Browser’s Dictionary, and introduced me to the world of letters. He even showed me another book which recounted the origin of the expression “A Trout in the Milk,” but I’m sad to say I can recall neither the book nor the meaning of “A Trout in the Milk.”
Well, I could go on at even greater length about JOHN WARNER FITZGERALD, but out of consideration for him, and for you, I will not prolong this much further. I will recount but one more event in our relationship that you should know. Justice LEVIN had told me that he had talked to JOHN WARNER FITZGERALD about the persistent rumor that Governor Milliken would appoint John to fill the vacancy in the Court created by Justice BRENNAN’S resignation to start the Cooley Law School, and that Fitz had expressed grave reservations about leaving the Court of Appeals and joining us. Chuck reported that he had tried to persuade John to accept the appointment, if the Governor offered it, and Chuck urged me to meet with Fitz and him, to add my voice to the argument. I am happy to say that I did, and that when the Holy Ghost once more illumined the mind of Governor Milliken, and he did make the appointment, JOHN W. FITZGERALD accepted and joined the Court. We and the people of Michigan needed him. Thank God we got him.
The last thing I would say about Fitz is, that he could have been Chief Justice whenever he would accept the office. He said he didn’t want to assume those responsibilities, and we respected his wishes. When Justice COLEMAN resigned, and we prevailed upon him to accept the office, in my opinion this Court never had a finer day. Thank you very much.
CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: The record ought to reflect the presence of Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, former Justice of this Court, JAMES L. RYAN, the Chief Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals MARTIN DOCTOROFF, and our former colleague on the Court of Appeals, GLENN S. ALLEN, JR.
Now, let us recognize a current member of this Court, the Honorable CHARLES LEONARD LEVIN, who has served on this Court with Justice FITZGERALD during the entire time, I think, of Justice FIZTGERALD’S service to this Court.
JUSTICE LEVIN: May it please the Court. I am honored to have been invited to speak at the dedication of the portrait of my colleague and friend, JOHN WARNER FITZGERALD, eighty-seventh justice, and fifty-fourth Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.
Justice FITZGERALD’S service, first on the Court of Appeals, later on this Court, exemplified Socrates’ admonition that a judge should hear courteously, consider soberly, answer wisely, and decide impartially. After his first public service during World War II as a member of the armed forces, Justice FITZGERALD was elected a Michigan State Senator from Grand Ledge, Michigan, as a Republican.
Following the Constitutional Convention of 1961, together with Lieutenant Governor T. John Lesinski, a Democrat, and the last Lieutenant Governor to serve in the shadow of a governor of the opposite party, Justice FITZGERALD crafted the enactment of 1964 Public Act 281, providing pursuant to the constitution for a Court of Appeals consisting of nine judges. There were three districts: District 1, Wayne County; District 2, 16 counties immediately surrounding Wayne County; and District 3, the rest of the state. T. John was elected from Wayne County, the 1st District, and John Warner from the 3rd District, Eaton County, and thus from the Fitzgerald family home in Grand Ledge, Eaton County being by the surest happenstance, just over the line from the 2nd District.
This bipartisan legislation provided a modest annual salary of $23,000, which, as I recall it, was fortuitously less than some circuit judges were receiving. LESINSKI was elected the first Chief Judge, and FITZGERALD the first Chief Judge Pro Tempore, of the Court of Appeals. The spirit of bipartisanship reflected in the drawing of the district lines and in the election of the Chief Judge and the Chief Judge Pro Tempore, which from the outset so characterized the Court of Appeals, in contrast with the then-partisan reputation of this Court, has continued to this day. The Court of Appeals is seen by the bench and bar and the public at large as nonpartisan to the honor of the Court of Appeals and its judges. I trust that those now charged with the responsibility that T. John, John Warner, and all the judges of the Court of Appeals charged so well, will carry in that tradition to assure that the Court of Appeals does not either become involved or appear to become involved in the replay of the struggles that are the business of the other two branches of government.
I was privileged to be elected to the Court of Appeals during those early formative years, and to form a professional and personal friendship with THOMAS GILES KAVANAGH, the first Court of Appeals judge to join this Court and JOHN WARNER FITZGERALD, who, following my election to this Court, became the third Court of Appeals judge to join this Court. This Tom Kavanagh by contentious, Irish congeniality changed the spirit of this Court. When Justice FITZGERALD joined us, those two relatively young comrades from the early days of the Court of Appeals, transformed the public image of this Court—a contribution which I also trust will endure.
Justice FITZGERALD wrote many important opinions. One of the most important was People v Aaron, which will be found in 409 Mich 672, decided in 1980. Aaron abrogated the common-law felony-murder doctrine, a rule of law that allowed the element of malice requisite for murder to be satisfied by the intent to commit an underlying felony. Aaron was important, not only because, following the lead of the model penal code and legislation enacted in many states, this Court then eliminated a harsh and out-dated view of criminal responsibility, but also because the Court acted in the exercise of its constitutional authority to declare the common law, and thereby made clear that the common law does not become mortified when embodied in the statute.
Then there was Higgins v Monroe Evening News, 404 Mich 1, decided in 1978. The question was whether Danny Higgins, who was five years old when seriously injured by an automobile as he was crossing the street accompanying a substitute paperboy, was entitled to worker’s compensation benefits. The substitute paperboy worked on a per diem basis. Danny, it was alleged, worked on a per dime basis. The opinion for the Court, written by Justice BLAIR MOODY, held that Danny Higgins could not recover. The dissenting opinion was written by Tom Kavanagh. The forebearers of both MOODY and KAVANAGH were newspapermen. Their fathers both worked for another evening news—the Detroit Evening News. MOODY and KAVANAGH, fully conversant, following years of worker’s compensation cases, with the legislative intent, and since their early days as sons of newspapermen, fully conversant with the needs of the newspaper business, reached different results. KAVANAGH would have found for Danny Higgins. FITZGERALD signed the KAVANAGH opinion without comment. But the refrain, “Remember Danny Higgins,” was often heard at our conference table.
Justice FITZGERALD did not retire from our bench because of the injustice done Danny Higgins. I have wondered why Fitz decided to leave the Court when he did. He is comfortable with, and learned in the law. He quickly mastered complex factual situations. He readily saw through obfuscation. He wrote easily and well.
It is no secret that the bulk of the applications for leave to appeal to this Court are on criminal cases, followed by personal injury cases, the traditional tort forum, and also no-fault, and other cases battling over insurance coverage for personal injury and property damage, and worker’s compensation, the original no-fault legislation. The rest of the law school agenda: contracts, real property, constitutional law, trusts and estates, partnerships, and the like, represent a relatively smaller portion of our agenda.
JOHN W. FITZGERALD loves the law, and there is an especially soft place in his heart for real property law, which he now teaches along with other courses at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
I think my friend, Fitz, may very well have left this Court to find a more congenial place. A place where the common law is spoken on a daily basis, and where he can instruct future generations of lawyers in the common-law tradition. I hope and believe he has found what he was looking for. Justice FITZGERALD’S written contribution to the law over the eighteen years he served the Court of Appeals, this Court, and the people of Michigan is set forth in the volumes of Michigan Reports and Michigan Appeals Reports. Fitz’s contribution to the spirit and stability of both Courts, essential to the reasoned and effective discharge of the responsibility is not, however, in the written word, but rather in the respect and esteem in which he is held by all who served with him. Thank you Justice, Professor, FITZGERALD.
CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: Thank you, Justice LEVIN. Let me now recognize the Associate Dean of Thomas Cooley Law School, who will make some comments of a personal capacity, and on behalf of the Law School, Dean Helen Pratt Mickens.
DEAN HELEN PRATT MICKENS: Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices, Justice FITZGERALD, and honorable guests. I’m very pleased to be here today to be part of this ceremony on behalf of Thomas Cooley Law School, to honor our friend and colleague Justice JOHN W. FITZGERALD. The title by which many of us know JOHN FITZGERALD is not justice, but instead is, professor. The history of Thomas Cooley Law School, and the life and career of JOHN FITZGERALD are interwoven.
On behalf of my faculty colleagues and the hundreds of students Professor Fitzgerald has introduced to the wonder and the complexity of the law, I bring greetings and congratulations. I bring special greetings from Thomas Cooley Law School President Thomas E. Brennan, who served as a judicial colleague on this, the highest court in the State of Michigan. President Brennan regrets that he is not able to join us today for the portrait unveiling, as a friend and also as a member of the Supreme Court Historical Society. He fondly recalls, Justice FITZGERALD’S significant contributions to the founding and the early days of Thomas Cooley Law School that continue through today. Picture if you will, Justices BRENNAN and FITZGERALD walking around downtown Lansing, assessing each building as they pass, and looking for a place to house the new law school. This was the description from Justice BRENNAN.
Thomas Cooley Law School was founded by these justices, and other visionary lawyers, and judges, and has become truly a national law school, with over 6,000 alumni in 49 states, who represent respected members of the bar, honored jurists, educators, state representatives and senators, and a governor. JOHN FITZGERALD has been part of the history and success of the law school from the very beginning. Thomas Cooley Law School’s first class, on its very first day, was taught by none other than Justice JOHN FITZGERALD. From that first property class in 1973, to today, Professor Fitzgerald has served as a board member, an adjunct professor, a beloved full-time professor at Thomas Cooley Law School. He is a teacher, a mentor, a counselor, and a friend. He was voted favorite member of the law faculty in a student poll conducted by the Italian-American Law Society. Professor Fitzgerald brings his experience as Court of Appeals judge, State Senator, legal counsel for the State Senate, associate and Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, to both his students and his colleagues.
He lives a quotation that it’s reported he put on the blackboard that very first night the first Thomas Cooley Law School class met in 1973. Quote, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” Professor Fitzgerald continues to learn his craft and to share his enthusiasm for his craft as he teaches it. We congratulate you and thank you, JOHN FITZGERALD, thank you for your many years of public service and your service to legal education.
CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: Let me now turn the proceedings back to Representative Fitzgerald for introduction of the artist.
REP. FRANK M. FITZGERALD: Thank you very much, your Honor. At this time I would like to recognize the portrait artist, and coming off the election I might mention he is a constituent of mine out in Eaton County, so he holds a special place in my heart, two days after the election, and that is Joseph DuMont; if he would stand please and be recognized.
Now, may it please the Court, before we do unveil the portrait I’d like to take a moment of the Court’s time. We’ve heard from the other speakers about my father’s life and all that he has done within the law. I think it is fitting to note that really this brings full circle his professional career, for the first public office that he held was also that of “justice”—justice of the peace in Grand Ledge, when that office was still on the books in Michigan. So from a small office in Grand Ledge to this august Court, he has truly come full circle in his professional career.
I would like to speak for one moment about my father as a person, because I, along with my brothers, have been able to observe him foremost in that capacity. He has of course a reverence for the law that has always been shown. We have known, my brothers and I, through everything—through the stressful legislative campaigns that he had, through the formation of the Court of Appeals, through the long hours in conference in these chambers, and in the chambers of the Michigan Court of Appeals, that despite his great love for the law, there was a love that he held above that, and that was for his family.
That would probably be called family values, but he’s not one who has to talk about that. He’s one who has always lived that. He’s always supported my brothers and me in everything that we have attempted to do. He is a man, as others have said, of courtesy, of stability, of kindness, of respect, and perhaps, the respect is the characteristic that best served him on the Court. His tolerance of others, his respect for others, his belief that every person in this state deserved to be heard before this Court.
Also, I would like to comment briefly upon his sense of humor, which is, I think, one of the things that serves me best in my life both personally and professionally. There’s hardly a day that goes by that either at home or in the travails of the Legislature, I don’t find myself saying either to myself, or to others who are with me, well, you know what my father would say in this situation, and then go on and bring up one of his sayings. He’s a man of prodigious memory and cultivation. A man who could have succeeded in anything that he did, but he chose to succeed on behalf of the people of this state, and above all else, my brothers and I could not have a greater man to emulate as we go through our lives. So at this time if it pleases the Court, I’d like to call on my brothers, Eric and Adam, to join me at the portrait so that we may unveil it for the Court.
[At which point, the portrait was unveiled.]
CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: Let me now recognize the man of the hour for his response and general remarks, Justice FITZGERALD.
JUSTICE JOHN W. FITZGERALD: Well, thank you Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court. And so there I am, preserved forever in oil, rather than formaldehyde. Frozen in time, if you will, in one of the beautiful leather chairs in the anteroom.
First, a word or two about the portrait. Many in this room may wonder who occupies the upper left-hand portion of the picture. It’s my father, and the small portrait there is a replica of the large one that hangs in the Capitol Building rotunda. Why it’s there may well be imagined, one’s family has a great deal of influence on one’s career and life. There are a handful of people in the room today who knew him and remember him when he lived in Grand Ledge, and I hope that that rendition pleases them also.
Then, a word about the artist, Mr. Joseph DuMont. When I was a member of this Court, the portrait of former Chief Justice THOMAS MATHEW KAVANAGH was dedicated, posthumously. I always admired that portrait as remarkably lifelike, and well executed. So when the time came to choose an artist, I specifically sought out Mr. DuMont. Good luck is that he lives in Delta Township, a constituent of my son’s, as he said. The truth of the matter is that he is still active in portraiture, despite the amount of time that had elapsed from the THOMAS MATHEW KAVANAGH portrait. He will soon have another work of art hung in the Capitol Building, that of Elijah Meyers, the original architect of the Capitol, shown at work on the intricate plans for our magnificent, and newly restored Capitol Building. When it is hung in the Capitol do not miss seeing it. It was a pleasure to work with Mr. DuMont on this portrait.
When I began to think about remarks for today, I gravitated to the printed report of the proceeding of this Court when I was sworn in on January 7, 1974. Well, that’s more than twenty years ago. Many of you were here for that, and if you’ll forgive me for growing older in those twenty years, I’ll forgive you. But, I digress, and, as I said, on that snowy January day in 1974, I guess from here on out I’ll observe that old maxim about judicial humor—judicial humor is neither, it’s still neither very humorous, nor is it very judicial, so I’m just suppressing my instincts as much as possible in that department.
There are passages from my swearing-in ceremony that I could almost lift out and use today. First and foremost is the credit and support that is owed to one person, my wife Lorabeth. I said then that I would not have been sworn into membership on this Court had it not been for her. The truth of the matter is that it was she who convinced me that I did want to be a lawyer after the first year of law school. That one-year period, of course, is the time when all law students pause to ask, why did I sign up for the grief of law school, and do I want to be a lawyer anyway? Well, she convinced me that I did. I also credit her with urging me to accept my original appointment to this Court when it was offered to me by Governor Milliken. It tipped the scales of decision to a yes, and put me on the Court, and brings us all here today. As I said of our marriage then, it spans a period of twenty years, and, better, today it spans forty years. She also was the motivating and facilitating force behind the portrait you see. So thank you, Lorabeth, not just for court-related and portrait support, but for forty-one years of great support and love in all things. You’re the real reason that we are here today.
Second, on my swearing-in day, former Chief Justice THOMAS E. BRENNAN speculated that my sons might want to follow the law one day. Remember, this was twenty years ago when they weren’t too terribly old. Well, one did—my son Frank, who has spoken today. The other sons have followed careers, not in the law, but in disciplines just as rigorous. Adam is an architect, which, as I discovered when paying the tuition bills, can take more time to train for than the law, if you follow all of its intricacies. My son Eric is with ABC, American Broadcasting in New York, and has had the enviable experience of being in Russia when communism ended and in Somalia when the US forces first were there. To all three of you, I reiterate what I said so long ago, you certainly don’t have to follow the law—unless you want to. One did, the other two followed their own likes, and who knows but they may have had experiences which top appearing before any court. My two grandchildren, John and Ellen, have the equal opportunity to choose the law or not, but I’ll let the natural forces of life influence that decision for them.
At my original swearing-in ceremony I also paid particular tribute to my law clerks, who had been with me in the Court of Appeals days. Today, there are also many of the law clerks from the Supreme Court days, and I’m so happy to see so many of you again. It’s sort of a legal family reunion for all of us.
Now, down briefly to the reasons I’m here today. They can be summed up as good fortune, good friends, and good family. Not necessarily in that order, but a blend of all of them. Good fortune or, as we sometimes say, luck, has much to do with all our lives. I was in the right place at the right time. I survived World War II; many of the people that I knew didn’t. I went to law school, met exactly the right person for me, and married. I graduated from law school. I passed the bar exam. I was already in public office when the Court of Appeals was created by the new constitution, and was a member of the first appeals court. There was vacancy on the Supreme Court—I was appointed. I had to run for election in less than a year—I won. It’s as simple as this: remove any one of those factors and we wouldn’t be here today.
My time spent on the bench and before was also blessed with good friends who gave wise counsel and, when I needed it, wise and gentle criticism. And finally, good family. To all of you I thank you for all that a family means when you need it. And one last thank you and recognition to many of my colleagues at the Cooley Law School. As has been stated, I was on the original Board of Directors of the law school, and I taught the very first class at Cooley, on the snowy night in January of 1973, one year prior to coming to this Court. I taught night school, incidentally. Now, since retiring from the Court, I’ve taught there almost twelve years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The inquiring minds of students keeps me searching for the answers in law that one will never find, but the search intrigues and captivates, and I appreciate all my fellow faculty members—and a special welcome to those of you here today.
As for the years I spent on the Court—well, you’ll find everything I had to say printed in the pertinent books of the Michigan Reports, and before that, in the first fifty volumes of the Court of Appeals Reports. As the Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam says, “The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,/Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit/Shall
lure it back to cancel half a Line,/ nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.” Well, in these twenty years, the moving finger indeed wrote for all of us, and we’ve all moved on, and as I think about it, I don’t want to lure the moving finger back, and I don’t want to cancel even half a line of what I wrote, and I don’t want to wash-out a word of it. So that’s why I’m here. Incredibly good fortune, incredibly good friends and colleagues, and incredibly good family. What I said while I was on the Court is in the books, there’s nothing to add—and we do remember Danny Higgins. A special thanks to all of you who made remarks today. We all made it over those twenty years to today, and thanks to all of you for sharing this special day with me and my family.
CHIEF JUSTICE CAVANAGH: Thank you, Mr. Justice, and thanks to everyone for your attendance today and your kind attention to these gracious presentations we’ve seen and heard this afternoon. Let me, if I could, conclude with a few personal words. Justice John, I’ve known you for many years, and several times I’ve had the opportunity to almost work with you, actually as a—the second law clerk on the Court of Appeals for THOMAS GILES KAVANAGH, and he will dispute the term of “work,” I guess. I had the opportunity to first make your acquaintance and see you operate amidst the original nine of that Court, and see the marvelous collegiality that was wrought amongst all of you. You fled that Court of Appeals one year later to the day, actually, before I arrived, and several years later, on January 1, 1983, I inherited your seat on this Court. Of course, Justice BRICKLEY got your desk, and your chair, and your dictaphone. Then you had slipped away again. But as I was finding my way around this place, I soon realized that in your quiet way, you had left a real blueprint for how to be a Supreme Court justice, and the first element, I think, was alluded to a number of times here today—civility and collegiality. We must be willing to accept guidance from each other and from the lawyers who come to this courtroom. The second is scholarship. I doubt that any judge in this country can match your record of four opinions in the American Law Reports in a period of nine years. The third element is a deep commitment to justice. I think your landmark opinion in People v Aaron says all that anyone needs to say in that regard. So, justice, you served this Court very well, and this institution certainly is a better place for your having been here. I’m very honored this afternoon to accept the portrait, and we’re very honored to have you here with us again.
That officially concludes this special session. This Court will stand in recess.