“If a theme runs through Francis D. Murnaghan’s career, it is using the law to realize the American people’s constitutional freedoms.”
-The Baltimore Sun
Judge Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. is universally regarded as one of the most influential judges in the history of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Over a 21 year period, Judge Murnaghan wrote 505 opinions for the Court, and over half as many concurring and dissenting opinions. Judge Murnaghan brought to the court an exceptional blend of powerful intellect, broad prior experiences and erudition in law, and high, unyielding professionalism. In addition to being recognized as one of our country’s leading jurist, he was well respected for displaying compassion to criminal defendants, the poor, and the voiceless.
This fellowship, named in his honor, stands as a monument to the values espoused by a towering legal figure who brought to the court an exceptional blend of powerful intellect, erudition in law, unyielding professionalism, and above all, compassion.
Judge Murnaghan was born in Baltimore on June 20, 1920. He received his high school diploma from Baltimore City College and his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University. Murnaghan decided to pursue a career in the legal profession. Judge Murnaghan received his degree from Harvard University School of Law in 1948.
1952, he returned to Maryland and joined Venable, Baetjer and Howard, one of Baltimore city’s most preeminent law firms. That same year, the firm granted him leave to serve as an assistant attorney general for Maryland. Beginning in 1954, Murnaghan devoted himself to the full-time private practice of law at Venable. While there, Murnaghan regularly represented Baltimore City’s newspaper The Sun in libel and First Amendment cases. He became a partner at Venable in 1957.
Judge Murnaghan was an early proponent for equality in matters of race and gender. In the 1960s, he defended civil rights activists who tried to integrate the Gwynn Oak amusement park in Baltimore County. In 1967, Judge Murnaghan ran for mayor on a ticket that included black and Jewish candidates. His support for those causes existed at a time in American history when respect for diversity was not yet the norm.
Judge Murnaghan remained at Venable until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter nominated him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, a federal court which handles appeals from federal district courts in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In response to his nomination, Baltimore’s leading newspaper, The Sun, stated that “Frank Murnaghan is acknowledged by judges and fellow lawyers alike as the foremost of this generation at the bar and is among the finest two or three lawyers Maryland has lately produced.”
Judge Murnaghan’s devotion to core democratic freedoms was unwavering. He authored important opinions, and milestone dissents, in the areas of First Amendment, labor, criminal procedure, and civil rights law. Through these decisions, he created opportunities to improve public schools, to eliminate racial prejudices, and to better the fabric of our democracy. The Murnaghan Fellowship celebrates that extraordinary legacy.