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Bruce Allen Murphy, Fred Morgan Kirby Professor of Civil Rights at Lafayette, has written Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas, a definitive biography of perhaps both the most accomplished and most controversial justice ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

“Murphy does a wonderful job of providing just enough historical context to allow general readers to appreciate the complexity of his brilliant, but flawed, subject without bogging down his narrative in a crush of detail,” states Publishers Weekly. “Douglas’ biography is as much a history of American politics in the mid-20th century as it is a portrayal of the man himself.”

Murphy spoke on the book March 18 at the Cato Institute, Washington, D.C. (watch or listen via internet). The talk was telecast nationally on C-Span2’s “Book TV” March 22 and 23.

The New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Diego Union-Tribune, Sunday Oregonian, Sacramento Bee, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Seattle Times, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Austin American-Statesman, and Deseret News (Salt Lake City), among other media, have given the book feature reviews.

The Washington Post features Wild Bill in Charles Lane’s Supreme Court column “Full Court Press”. The New Republic includes a lengthy review by Judge Richard A. Posner of Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Published this month by Random House and adopted by both the Book of the Month Club and History Book Club, Wild Bill is Murphy’s third major book on the Supreme Court. His first book, The Brandeis/Frankfurter Connection: The Secret Political Activities of Two Supreme Court Justices (Oxford University Press, 1982), was featured in a front-page story in The New York Times and became the subject of a nationwide debate on judicial ethics. The book was serialized in The Washington Post, received featured reviews in major national media, and earned a certificate of merit from the American Bar Association.

Murphy’s second book, Fortas: The Rise and Ruin of a Supreme Court Justice (William Morrow, 1988), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and received similar national attention.

One of the nation’s foremost authorities on constitutional law and civil rights and liberties, Murphy developed Wild Bill from 15 years of exhaustive research in 86 manuscript collections, long-hidden documents, and interviews conducted with more than 100 people, many sharing their recollections for the first time. The resulting product reveals the truth behind Douglas’ carefully constructed image.

By age 30, Douglas was dubbed “the most outstanding law professor in the nation.” At 38, he served as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, beating back corruption in Wall Street during the Great Depression. Two years later, he was the second youngest Supreme Court justice in American history, going on to serve longer — and to write more opinions and dissents — than any other justice.

In evolving from a pro-government advocate in the 1940s to an icon of liberalism in the 1960s, Douglas became a champion for the rights of privacy, free speech, and the environment. While doing so, “Wild Bill” lived up to his nickname by racking up more marriages, divorces, and impeachment attempts aimed against him than any other member of the Court. But it was what Douglas did not accomplish that haunted him: He never fulfilled his mother’s ambition for him to become president of the United States.

Using “literary license,” Douglas wrote three memoirs in which the American public was led to believe that he had suffered from polio as an infant and was raised by an impoverished, widowed mother whose life savings were stolen by the family attorney. He further chronicled his time as a poverty-stricken student sleeping in a tent while attending Whitman College, serving as a private in the Army during World War I, and “riding the rods” like a hobo to attend Columbia Law School. Murphy’s research reveals for the first time that none of these claims were true, but rather were Douglas’ attempts to persuade the public that he should have been president, like his hero Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In addition to his Supreme Court biographies, Murphy is the author or coauthor of two textbooks, Portraits of American Politics: A Reader (Houghton Mifflin, 1991) and Approaching Democracy: An Introduction to American Government (Prentice Hall, 1996), which is now in its fourth edition.

He has also authored numerous book chapters, journal articles, and professional papers. In recognition of his publishing record, Murphy was named a fellow in Penn State’s interdisciplinary Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies in 1989, the youngest person named in the institute’s 30-year history. He also has given many presentations to groups such as the U.S. Supreme Court Chamber to the Supreme Court Historical Society, Harvard Law School, American Political Science Association, and Southern Political Science Association.

Since 1987, Murphy has organized and directed summer graduate teaching seminars for advanced placement high school and college teachers from around the nation on civil rights and liberties, the Supreme Court, Congress, and the American presidency through Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. Since 1980, He has taught six to ten seminars at the foundation annually on American politics and citizenship to high school students sent by various community service organizations.

Murphy joined the Lafayette faculty as Fred Morgan Kirby Professor of Civil Rights in 1998. The Kirby professorship, in Lafayette’s department of government and law, was the first endowed chair in civil rights at any college or university in the nation. It was established in 1920 through a gift from Fred Morgan Kirby. Kirby also gave the College the funds to build the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights, one of the nation’s greatest academic buildings, which was dedicated in 1930.

Murphy is the recipient of several teaching awards and honors, including the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching, Penn State’s highest university-wide award for teaching, in 1987. He was a Citation Award Winner and finalist for Professor of the Year in the 1984 competition sponsored by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. Director of Lafayette’s forensics and mock trial teams before taking a sabbatical leave during the 2002-03 fall semester, Murphy has received recognition as Organization Adviser of the Year.

He also is accomplished as a mentor to Lafayette students, nurturing them in advanced research projects. He guided Jennifer Gibbs ’02 as she pursued departmental honors through a thesis on the issue of privacy as it relates to unmanned micro air vehicles being developed and used by the military. Gibbs, who graduated cum laude last May with a degree in government & law and art, is now special assistant to the deputy chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Murphy worked with Christine Socha ’02 in research tracing the origins of the term “Trial of the Century,” which has been attached to dozens of notorious court cases in the last two centuries. As a participant in Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty members with research while earning a stipend, Socha examined murder cases of the 1800s, with an eye toward finding the first use of the sensationalistic emblem.

“The best part about the opportunity I had to work with Professor Murphy was that I didn’t even have a definite idea about what I wanted to do when I began,” says Socha, a member of Phi Beta Kappa who graduated magna cum laude last May with a degree in government and law. “Professor Murphy got to know me and knew that I liked trials and wanted to research trials. I’m glad I came to Lafayette because there are so many opportunities for students to do what they have a knack for and are interested in.”

Maria Fekete ’02 received guidance from Murphy in her honors thesis on the tremendous impact a Supreme Court justice’s stage of life has on the decisions he or she renders on the bench. “I was so privileged to work with him because he has the most extensive background in United States history,” says Fekete, who graduated cum laude last May with a degree in government and law. “We always worked really well together.”

Murphy mentored Scott Featherman ’01 in an EXCEL Scholars project examining the life of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. A member of Phi Beta Kappa who graduated summa cum laude with a degree in government and law, Featherman was listed as coauthor with Murphy for entries on Abe Fortas and F. Lee Bailey in Great American Lawyers: An Encyclopedia, published by ABC-CLIO Inc. in 2001.

Bryce Murray ’00, who graduated cum laude with a degree in government and law, worked with Murphy on his honor thesis about the First Amendment, hate crimes, and the Internet. “Professor Murphy helped me achieve my goals at Lafayette, some of which I did not even realize I had at first,” he says.

In addition to constitutional law and civil rights and liberties, Murphy’s teaching and research interests include 20th century American political history, Supreme Court history and behavior, the American presidency, American national institutions, and biographical studies.

“My goal in the classroom has always been to pay homage to the marvelous learning environment provided by my teachers by recreating it for my own students,” he says.

Murphy earned his doctorate in 1978 from the University of Virginia, where he received the Allan T. Gwathmey Foundation Fellow, given to the top student in the Graduate School of Arts and Science. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He graduated in 1973, summa cum laude, with a major in political science and was listed in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

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