Francis D. Murnaghan Jr.

Jurist: First Amendment tiger, legal titan and champion of public's right to view great art.

September 04, 2000

IN HIS quarter century as this newspaper's principal lawyer on First Amendment issues, Frank D. Murnaghan put backbone into many reporters' and editors' zeal for the public's right-to- know, rather than the reverse.

All that time, he was one of the most admired figures in the legal establishment for his urbane scholarship, legal knowledge, public spirit and tenacity in litigation.

After President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1979, Judge Murnaghan helped give that circuit a reputation for erudition and, perhaps, liberalism in constitutional interpretation.

The latter was a reputation that President Reagan set out to change through appointments, and did. Despite Judge Murnaghan's eloquent dissents, the 4th Circuit is now renowned for its political conservatism.

Always active in Baltimore's civic life on boards and commissions and as a failed candidate for mayor in 1967, Judge Murnaghan was best known for his impact as trustee and chairman of the Walters Art Gallery.

He steered the museum through expansion and growing mission of education and enlightenment for its owners, the people of Baltimore City. He was generous in gifts of European and Irish paintings, especially from the collection amassed by his late uncle, a distinguished jurist in Ireland.

A stroke failed to slow Judge Murnaghan's contributions to the law, the court and Baltimore life. His death at 80 deprives the nation of his legal mind and this region of his zeal to serve.

If a theme runs through Francis D. Murnaghan's career, it is using the law to realize the American people's constitutional freedoms. This is noble work, but someone has to do it.

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