Harold Norris (October 16, 2013)
One of Michigan's most celebrated advocates of civil liberties, Professor Norris began his legal career in the private practice of law for 13 years from 1947-1960, concentrating on constitutional law, civil liberties and labor law, including representing teachers, students and others subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Affairs. Professor Norris taught Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Women and the Law at DCL for 37 years (1961-1997) to some 6,000 students, inspiring them to embrace the Bill of Rights as a living document to protect minorities, women and "the least, the last, and the lost" and assure equal treatment and dignity under the law. He advocated that law was a tool to achieving justice for regular citizens against abusive government practices.
In 1961, Professor Norris was elected delegate to Michigan's Constitutional Convention, where he played a major role in writing Michigan's Constitution. He was the co-author of Article I, Section 2, prohibiting racial and religious discrimination, and helped write Article V, Section 29, to create the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, the only state with a Constitutionally created Civil Rights Commission prohibiting racial and religious discrimination. Professor Norris authored the Freedom of Expression provision in the Declaration of Rights, and the provisions creating a right of appeal in every criminal case, a right to fair and just treatment in legislative and executive investigations and an expanded right of petition. The new right of appeal was the Constitutional basis for the creation of the Michigan Appellate Defender's Office. He was also responsible for the action of the convention deleting from the Constitution a provision denying the defense of First Amendment Rights to any person charged with "subversion."
Professor Norris was the only recipient of two Lifetime Achievement Awards from the State Bar of Michigan; in 1988 the Champion of Justice Award, and in 2011, the John W. Reed Michigan Lawyer Legacy Award as an educator whose influence on lawyers elevated the quality of legal practice in Michigan. In 1981, Wayne State University awarded Professor Norris "Doctor of Humane Letters" for his outstanding contribution to the professions of teaching and the law and to the cause of liberty for all Americans and a Doctor of Laws Degree from DCL in 1989. Also, in 1988 Norris received the Distinguished Warrior Award from the Detroit Urban League for being a champion of civil liberties.
Earlier in his career, The Michigan Chronicle gave Norris a special award "In Recognition of 25 Years of Outstanding Support and Community Guidance Service" as a courageous liberal with more than a common interest in his fellow man, particularly noting a study he conducted revealing an unjustifiable number of arrests being made against minorities, resulting in the establishment of a citizens review board providing impartial review to matters involving police and citizens. Professor Norris was former chair of the American Civil Liberties Union of Metropolitan Detroit, becoming a "Board Member Emeritus" after 40 years of service. Professor Norris also received a Michigan Supreme Court Certificate describing him as "Lawyer, Educator, Poet, and Statesman" noting its appreciation of his "vision, faith, and commitment that have inspired a lifetime of contributions to the jurisprudence of our state."
Professor Norris authored a number of books to promote the public determination to defend civil rights and liberties. He wrote Mr. Justice Murphy and the Bill of Rights, convincing Mayor Cavanaugh that Recorder's Court be named after former Mayor of Detroit and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, stressing Justice Murphy's great work for civil rights and liberties later giving the ground breaking speech for the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. Norris also published an innovative Casebook of Complete Criminal Trials, a three-volume set of cases, materials and problems on the advocacy and administration of criminal justice, Reflections on Law, Lawyers, and the Bill of Rights, A Collection of Writings 1944-1984, and Education for Popular Sovereignty Through Implementing the Constitution on the Bill of Rights, on the occasion of the Bicentennial of the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, a book which Professor Norris called "the capstone of my career." Senator Carl Levin stated in the preface that the book was a sample of the professor's "life's efforts to protect the U.S. Constitution and extend its guarantees to each of us."
Professor Norris also expressed strong feelings on the Constitution and other colorful topics in his poetry book. "An American Mural: The Liberty Bell & Other Select and New Poetry," nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, was acclaimed by renowned poets, Archibald MacLeish and Theodore M. White, who praised his poetry as "authentically American and authentically human." Norris' poem, "The Liberty Bell," hangs in the Independence National Parks Administration Building in Philadelphia next to the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell poem was also introduced into the Congressional Record in 1978 by Congressman John Conyers.
Professor Norris received a bachelor of arts degree from U of M in 1939 and a master's degree in economics in 1941. The following year, Norris entered the military.
Upon graduating from the Army Air Force Statistical School at Harvard in 1943, he spent the remainder of World War II until 1946, serving as a statistical control officer in Britain and France for three years with the 9th Air Force, Air Transport Command. He later received his law degree from Columbia University in 1948.
Harold Norris is survived by his daughter, Barbara "BJ" Shawn; son, Victor (Ronda Barak) Norris; grandchildren, Rebecca (Brad) Kranig, Max and Jessica Norris; great-grandchildren, Mitchell and Conner Kranig; cousins, nephews, nieces, and other family members and friends. He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Frances, with whom he enjoyed a spiritual marriage for 47 years; sister, Irene Simon; and his brother, Norton Norris. He was also survived by his loving caregivers, Gina, Rahtina, Kim and Margot.
The funeral services will be 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Ira Kaufman Chapel, 18325 West Nine Mile Road, Southfield, Mich., (248) 569-0020. Interment will follow at Beth El Memorial Park in Livonia, Mich.
Memorial contributions may be made by check payable to MSU Law, Harold Norris Endowment and mailed to the Law College Building, Room 400, 648 N. Shaw Lane, East Lansing, MI 48824; or online at http://www.law.msu.edu/donate (and then the donor link to the Harold Norris Endowment); or a charity of your choice.