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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

When Governor Moore announced on February 20, 1939, that he was going to nominate Frank Hague, Junior, to the highest court in the state, the Court of Errors and Appeals, as a lay judge, because he knew the appointment would `make his dad happy,' the time had come for the Hoffmanites to show their gratitude. Nomination by a loyal Democratic governor was easy, but confirmation was in the hands of twenty-one senators, fourteen of whom were Republicans.

Young Frank Hague, then thirty-four years old, was unlike his father in many respects; he was an amiable, easygoing young man who showed no interest in politics. He lacked his father's aggressiveness and astuteness, so that it was clear even to his family that he was no heir-apparent. He was, however, like his father, almost impervious to education, in spite of the most expensive private schools and tutors. He attended the Kingsley School, the Princeton Preparatory School, and the Milford School. This battery at length got him into Princeton in 1927. At the end of his first year he had to go to summer school to repeat courses he had failed. A convenient illness the following February saved him from dismissal: he withdrew until the autumn of 1929. In the spring of 1930, however, after the results of his examinations appeared, he was permitted to resign from the university `to study elsewhere.' Some members of the faculty under whom he was supposed to be studying scarcely knew him, he attended class so seldom. The higher learning, at least at Princeton, was not for him.

In the autumn of 1930 he entered the law school of the University of Virginia. His stay at Virginia was notable in two ways: he married Mary Katherine Jordon, daughter of a dean, and he failed nine of the twenty courses he took in the law school.

He transferred to Washington and Lee in 1932, and there tried the law again. He studied, off and on, until 1936, when he gave up. He was never graduated. Unable to obtain a law degree, he nevertheless attempted the same year that he left Washington and Lee the New Jersey bar examination, which two thirds of the candidates normally fail on their first attempt. But he passed.

He served his clerkship – an apprentice period which candidates for the bar in New Jersey must spend – in the law office of his father's lawyer, John Milton; but shortly after he passed the bar examination he was made secretary to Supreme Court Justice Newton H. Porter, a Republican, at the time of Mr. Porter's appointment to the bench. There is no record of his ever having tried a case.

It took a certain amount of maneuvering to open a vacancy for him on the Court of Errors. Thomas Glynn Walker, formerly Democratic leader in the Assembly, was induced to resign his seat on the court to become county judge of Hudson County, and it was announced that Mayor Hague was urging Walker's appointment by President Roosevelt to the federal bench; indeed, he was appointed in December, 1939, federal district judge.

Though the announcement of young Hague's nomination might have made his dad happy, it did not make the lawyers happy. A prominent member of the Essex County Bar Association called it `a slap in the face of every bar association in New Jersey.' There were many other protests, but Frank, Junior, who was in Florida, `could not be reached for comment.'

The Hudson County Bar Association, however, almost immediately approved. Within six days of the nomination it was announced that five hundred members had signed a petition urging his confirmation. Louis Marciante, president of the State Federation of Labor, issued a statement approving the selection and saying that the opposition came from the radicals and from `the dying C.I.O.'

Some inquisitive lawyers wanted the Senate to hold a hearing, but since the nominee was in Florida, it seemed unfair to many senators to make him come back to New Jersey. On March 6 he was, therefore, confirmed by the Senate, six Hoffman Republicans voting with seven Democrats to produce the necessary majority. About a week later he returned from Florida and was sworn in. Not even Justice Story rose so rapidly or so easily in the judiciary. With his only son safely on the state's highest court at about nine thousand dollars a year (forty dollars a day), Mayor Hague went to Florida for a rest.

The New Jersey Law Journal on March 9, 1939, summed up the attitude of the bar in an editorial:

Lawyers, sometimes looked upon as `leaders of the bar,' bar associations, and in fact the whole bar of New Jersey have been taken to task for their failure to openly and courageously oppose the appointment of Frank Hague, Jr., to the Court of Errors and Appeals. True, a few brave lawyers publicly opposed it. The rest of the bar must admire the courage of Frederic R. Colic of Newark and the group of young lawyers in stating their position as they did. But it is not altogether a matter of hindsight to say that the confirmation of this appointment was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps the bar did not wish to tilt with a windmill. Perhaps there was fear of reprisals, judicial and political.... Nevertheless, whatever the reason, lawyers as a group have suffered another blow, rightly or wrongly.
The action of the Republican senators was more than ordinary gratitude: it was that political gratitude which is a lively appreciation of favors to come, for Harold Hoffman, Director of the Unemployment Compensation Commission, had made no secret to his friends of his ambitions to become governor again and after that, United States senator. A man with such foresight and such diverse talents must have heard of Governor Larson.


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