Washington Law Review


Peter Irons


The central focus of this article is on the role played in these episodes by the U.S. Department of Justice, the primary federal agency entrusted with law enforcement duties and powers. In particular, the role of the attorney general as the department's titular head and as the personification of federal enforcement of civil rights and liberties provides this article with its analytic framework. A recent press commentary put this crucial cabinet post in perspective: "More than anyone but the President himself, it is the Attorney General who sets the moral tone of an Administration, symbolizing its commitment or lack of commitment to impartial justice." The four men who served Franklin Roosevelt in this post—Homer Cummings, Frank Murphy, Robert Jackson, and Francis Biddle—spanned the spectrum in the "moral tone" that each imposed on the department's approach to civil rights and liberties, from the virtual unconcern shown by Cummings to the passionate moralism and activism with which Murphy invested his office.

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