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Justice Thomas Giles Kavanagh (1917 - 1997)

 


 

Thomas was born on August 14, 1917, in Bay City, Michigan. He attended the University of Detroit High School and received his A.B. degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1938. Thomas then attended the Detroit College of Law and received his LL.B. in 1943.

Thomas first served on the bench in 1964 in the Court of Appeals. In 1968 he was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court. In 1976 Thomas was re-elected in a landslide victory despite the Democratic Party nominating someone else.

In 1969, the Court had two Thomas Kavanagh's: Thomas Matthew Kavanagh of Carson City, and Thomas Giles, though they were not related. Nicknames were given to distinguish the two Justices. Thomas Matthew Kavanagh, the hard driving, politically astute, long-time Chief Justice was aptly called "Thomas The Mighty" Thomas Giles was known as "Thomas The Good"

During his four years as Chief Justice Thomas was credited with calming and unifying the high court. During the 1960's and 1970's  the court was "fiercely and harshly divided", even to the point of physical confrontation between justices according to Roger Lane, a friend of Thomas and former court employee.

Thomas was fond of saying that "the members of the Court through sheer happenstance and the vicissitudes of politics, ambition, age, health, and geography had been thrown together like survivors sharing a single life raft, and it was our task and our duty to work together for the common benefit." He sometimes offended prosecutors for his "liberal" rulings and once created a commotion when he said that the U.S. constitution should "handcuff" the government and that the Supreme Court's role is to "protect the individual from the government"

Thomas died in May of 1997.

Source : Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society