Must-Read Musmanno (Musmanno)

Michael Musmanno

Justice Michael Musmanno, a Hall of Famer

Any fan of judicial opinion writing needs to study the opinions of the Honorable Michael A. Musmanno (1897-1968). He led a remarkable life. Before joining the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Justice Musmanno enjoyed an illustrious career as a lawyer, U.S. Congressman and author. Highlights of his career include serving as the presiding judge at the Nuremberg war crime trials and as a defense lawyer in the Sacco & Vanzetti trial.

His opinions are marvelous concoctions of deep-hearted passion and brutal common sense, delivered in highly literate and often hilarious prose.

U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski, another notable opinion-writer,  reported to that Musmanno has been his model since law school and that he consciously tries to emulate Musmanno’s writing. He laments that today’s law school graduates have never heard of Musmanno and return only blank stares when his name is mentioned.

Here are a couple samples of Musmanno’s writing sent by Chris Nace:

In Bosley v. Andrews, a woman sued a neighbor whose cows trespassed on her farmland to eat her crops. After being chased away in the morning, the “bovine buccaneers,” as Musmanno called them, returned for lunch. “This time they came, eight of them, with reinforcements. They brought along their boy friend, a 1500-pound Hereford white-faced bull.” The bull took chase after the plaintiff, causing her to suffer a heart attack.

A majority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the woman’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress damages, following the traditional rule that such a claim cannot be maintained in the absence of a “physical impact” with the plaintiff (the bull never actually touched the plaintiff).

In dissent, Musmanno skewered the majority for what he saw as an unjust result, closing his opinion by stating that the majority’s approach “is unsupportable in law, logic, and elementary justice – and I shall continue to dissent from it until the cows come home.”

In Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Bravo Enterprises, Inc., the plaintiff sought to enjoin a bullfight, but the majority held that the organization lacked standing. Musmanno began his impassioned dissent:

If there is one commodity of which there is no need for a further supply, it is violence. If there is one school that the world can afford to miss, it is one for the tutoring of methods of violence, brutality and cruelty. … [W]e can well do without a bullfight which is nothing less than an open air lyceum in the art of torturing helpless animals.

Add Justice Musmanno to your list of “four dead people with whom you would most like to have dinner.”

Bosley v. Andrews, 142 A. 2d 263, 267–68, 280 (Pa. 1958) (Musmanno, J., dissenting); Pa. Soc’y for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Bravo Enterprises, Inc., 237 A. 2d 342 (Pa. 1968) (Musmanno, J., dissenting). Thanks to Chris Nace.

4 comments to Must-Read Musmanno (Musmanno)

  • Robby Jones

    I love Michael Musmanno and loved researching the guy. He hated commies, but defended Sacco and Vanzetti. Robert Serivatius thought he had Musmanno trapped. He didn’t. He got what he wanted from Steve Nelson, even though Nelson didn’t survive SCOTUS. I’d buy dinner.

  • geriann camera

    Judge Musmanno appeared on “To Tell The Truth”, Feb. 12, 1962. The episode is available on You Tube. I happened upon the Judge’s appearance on the show. Prior to that I had never heard or read anything about him. In the future I hope he receives the appropriate importance of the historical significance of his life and career.

    • Andrew J. McClurg

      Thanks for the tip. I searched for the episode on YouTube, but couldn’t find it. If you locate the link, please send it along.

  • Robert Edgar

    A brilliant individual relating to Law.A man who worked for the success that his brilliant brain gave him.A man who knew what it was like to be poor and who worked feverishly to attain the requisetes required to become a top man in the field of Law. Flamboyant yes but then he was the the main man when it came to defending the poor against injustice

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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