Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Clarke Remembers Senator and Justice Robert P. Griffin

by Frank Boles

Congressman Griffin with home
demonstration representatives on the
Capitol steps, April, 1961
The Clarke Historical Library lost a good friend on April 16, when Robert Griffin died. Several news outlets have published lengthy biographies of the former United States Senator and Michigan Supreme Court Justice, but none mention that the Clarke has a special connection to the Senator. Bob Griffin, a CMU alumnus (1947), entrusted the Clarke with his papers. Today, we continue to preserve thousands of documents and photographs, and a great deal of audio/visual material that document the legislative and judicial legacies of Bob Griffin -- all of which is open to the public without restriction.

The Senator also served on the Clarke Historical Library’s Board of Governors. Bob was a source of much wisdom, good advice, and at least one very memorable story. At a Clarke Board meeting, I had the obligation to report that the Library had been threatened by lawsuit over information found on our website. A fairly detailed legal discussion ensued. The discussion reviewed advice from CMU’s Counsel which was, in short, that such a suit would be groundless. Throughout the conversation, the Senator remained silent, and when he was asked for his thoughts he simply said, “It would be best if the minutes reflected that I recused myself from this discussion.” This ended the official discussion.

Senator Griffin with students and chaperones
from Brooks Elementary School, Milford, Mich.
during their ca. 1976 visit to Washington, D.C.
Unsurprisingly, and unofficially, one of the first subjects to be visited over lunch was why “it would be best if the minutes reflected that [Justice Griffin] recused [him]self.” Griffin was still a sitting judge, and as it turned out, the likely reason the Library had been threatened with a lawsuit was that we had summarized inconvenient historical information that did not support a legal argument found in a suit the Justice was about to hear. Over a sandwich, Bob smiled and said, “but I did find your conversation useful.” I can only conclude that it was so, since the Clarke was never sued, and insofar as I know, that lawsuit quietly disappeared from his court docket.

The Senator’s funeral is today, and we extend our sympathy to his widow, Marjorie, and his entire family.