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Frank Minis Johnson, Jr. (1918-1999)
Frank Minis Johnson, Jr. (1918-1999)
Frank M. Johnson, Jr. was born and educated in Alabama and graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law. He served as a combat infantryman in World War II, was twice wounded and ended his military career as a legal officer in Germany.

He began his law practice in Jasper in 1946 and was named United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in 1953. In 1955, he was named U.S. District Court Judge for the Middle District of Alabama. At the time of his investiture, he was the youngest federal judge in the nation.

Judge Johnson had a very short period of “calm” before the “Civil Rights Storm” that came to Montgomery and the United States. In a 1980 television interview, Bill Moyers noted that “fate placed Frank M. Johnson, Jr. in the nerve center of confrontation and change" One of his earliest decisions declared that segregated public transportation— the bus system of Montgomery—was unconstitutional.

Other landmark cases and decisions came rapidly in his judicial career. He ordered that blacks be registered to vote. His opinion in United States v. Alabama (1961) created a standard that was written into the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He was the first judge to apply the one-man, one-vote principle to state legislative apportionment. He ordered the first comprehensive statewide school desegregation. He was the first judge to apply the equal protection clause of the Constitution to state laws discriminating against women. He established the precedent that people in mental institutions have a constitutional right to --treatment. He ordered the end of the jungle-like conditions in Alabama prisons. And, he stated that the law was clear that citizens have the right to petition their government to address grievances and that those rights be exercised by marching along a public highway from Selma to Montgomery.

Judge Johnson was one of the most honored judges of the 20th Century. He received honorary doctorates from colleges all over the country, including Notre Dame, Princeton, St. Michael’s College, the University of Alabama, Boston University, Yale, Tuskegee Institute, and Mercer. At least four biographies have been written about him. Frank Johnson was a great lawyer and earned a national reputation as a great judge.

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