Frank, John P. (1917–2002)

2012-06-25 14:37:00

John Frank was a twentieth century legal practitioner, scholar, teacher, mentor, and author who most assuredly lived ‘‘a life in the law.’’ As a law professor and practicing lawyer, he participated in a number of the major Supreme Court cases of the modern era. After earning degrees at the University of Wisconsin and Yale Law School, Frank began his legal career in 1942 as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. He subsequently taught law at Indiana University and at Yale. In 1954, when health problems pushed him to the southwestern United States, he joined the Phoenix, Arizona, law firm of Lewis and Roca in 1954 and practiced there for almost fifty years.

During his faculty tenure at Yale, Frank, who had met Thurgood Marshall at Indiana, joined in the NAACP Legal Education and Defense Fund assault on segregated education. In 1949 in Sweatt v. Painter, the Fund challenged the State of Texas for providing inadequate law school facilities for African Americans. At Marshall’s request, Frank and two Yale Law School colleagues submitted an amicus brief, eventually signed by 187 law professors, supporting the NAACP suit. The brief in Sweat v. Painter went far beyond Marshall’s argument, suggesting a complete end to segregation. Frank argued that racial classifications intrinsically violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Although the Court did not at the time accept the academics’ argument, the justices did acknowledge that the plaintiff had been denied equal educational opportunity. Ultimately, the constitutional argument was addressed in the 1954 Brown v. Education litigation in which Frank also advised Thurgood Marshall.

During his time in private practice in Phoenix, Frank’s accomplishments were many and varied. He became an expert on civil procedure and participated in a major revision of those rules. He was noted for his extensive pro bono work and represented Ernesto Miranda in Miranda v. Arizona in which the United States Supreme Court declared that the Fifth Amendment requires suspects be informed by law enforcement authorities that they have the right to an attorney during questioning. Frank was noteworthy, as well, for his mentoring of aspiring lawyers and was instrumental in encouraging the opening up of law practice to women. As a nationally respected lawyer, he testified in support of Richard Nixon’s controversial nomination of Clement Haynsworth to the Supreme Court in 1970 but testified in opposition to Ronald Reagan’s Robert Bork nomination in 1987. He also advised Anita Hill in her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 in the contentious Thomas–Hill confirmation hearings.

Frank remained an active legal scholar until the end of his career, publishing eleven books that included a portrait of Abraham Lincoln as lawyer, a study of the Supreme Court, and last, an examination of the Haynsworth nomination process. His most important legacy, however, was summed up best by a former prote´ge´, Leon Higginbotham, an African-American student of Frank’s at Yale who later became chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, himself a noted jurist. Higginbotham, in an address to young lawyers thanked Frank for the lesson he had learned from him at Yale—‘‘that the pursuit of justice was not an inappropriate profession for a lawyer.’’


References and Further Reading

  • Barrett, John Q., Symposium: John Frank, Leon Higginbotham, and One Afternoon at the Supreme Court—Not a Trifling Thing, Yale Law and Policy Review 20 (2002): 311–323.
  • Cardena, Jose´ A., John P. Frank: A Life of Socially Useful Work, Arizona Attorney 39 (November 2002): 22.
  • Entin, Jonathan L., In memoriam: John P. Frank, Case Western Reserve Law Review 53 (Fall 2002): 238–242.
  • Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality. New York: Vintage Books, 1977.
  • Sperry, Lisa, John Frank’s Mark of Excellence, Arizona Attorney 36 (December 1999): 40–45.