Skip to main content, skip to search, or skip to the top of the page.

MSU College of Law

October 14, 2013

MSU Law Community Mourns the Passing of Legendary Professor Emeritus Harold Norris


Memories of Professor Norris >>

The Michigan State University College of Law community lost a giant today with the passing of Professor Emeritus Harold Norris, who died this morning at the age of 95.

Professor Norris taught Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Women and the Law to more than 5,000 students during his 35 years at the Detroit College of Law. Former students and colleagues referred to Harold as the “conscience” of the Law College and “a champion of . . . the administration of justice” after his retirement in 1996.

“Professor Norris made a difference,” said Brian Kalt, the Harold Norris Faculty Scholar at MSU Law. “To him, the law was not just a set of abstractions to occupy people in ivory towers. In his view—and in his hands—the law was a tool to achieve justice for regular citizens, against abusive government practices. Best of all, for decades he conveyed this vision of the law to his students; my father was one of them, and I grew up hearing Harold Norris stories.” There are many stories to be told.

Professor Norris was born April 7, 1918, in Detroit. He graduated from Central High School—where he met his beloved wife, Frances—in 1935. Planning on a teaching career, he received Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Michigan in 1939 and 1941, respectively.

Harold spent the next four years in the United States Army Air Corps. He graduated from Officer Candidate School—attending the Harvard Business School program to train Statistical Control Officers—before spending nearly three years in Britain and France with the Ninth Air Force, Air Transport Command.

After leaving the service in 1946, Harold entered Columbia University, which offered an accelerated program for veterans. He earned his Juris Doctor degree two years later and soon returned to his home state. After briefly working for two other practitioners, Harold set out on his own, launching his own practice focused on constitutional, criminal, and administrative matters. Active in bar association work, he helped initiate compulsory automobile liability insurance, secure the inclusion of lawyers in the Social Security Act, and write the Michigan Automobile Liability Accident Claims Act.

A self-described “child of the depression,” Harold was sensitive to the happenings in Detroit in the late 1940s—particularly workers’ efforts to make government responsive to the employment, housing, health, and education problems of the time. Clients included a variety of labor unions and numerous community groups. Harold fought for the relocation of Detroit residents facing eviction due to major land clearance projects in the 1950s, and helped reconstitute the American Civil Liberties Union to assist teachers and students who had been subpoenaed by the House Un-American Affairs Committee.

Harold joined the Executive Board of the ACLU’s Detroit Chapter in 1952, and served as president of the chapter from 1958 through 1961. It was during his time with the ACLU that Dean Charles H. King, ’33, asked Harold to join the Detroit College of Law faculty, rekindling his early interest in teaching.

In 1961, Harold was elected a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention, representing Detroit. He was vice-chair of the Committee on the Declaration of Rights, Suffrage and Elections, and served on the Committee on Style and Drafting. Recognized as a principal architect of the Michigan Bill of Rights, Harold authored the provisions of the 1963 Michigan Constitution prohibiting racial and religious discrimination, and co-authored those creating a Civil Rights Commission.

Recognized by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1987 as “Lawyer, Educator, Poet and Statesman,” Harold was a man of many talents. When he was not teaching or practicing law, he wrote poetry and seven books. He is widely known for “The Liberty Bell,” a poem about fundamental rights reverberating from the cracked bell; the piece hangs in the lobby of the home of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. He considered his 1991 book Education for Popular Sovereignty through Implementing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights the “capstone” of his career.

Professor Norris was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Wayne State University in 1981, and a Doctor of Laws degree from Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State Law) in 1989. In 2011, he received the inaugural John W. Reed Michigan Lawyer Legacy Award, which is presented periodically by the State Bar of Michigan to a law school professor whose influence on Michigan lawyers has elevated the quality of legal practice in the state.

Harold was the beloved husband of the late Frances Norris; cherished father of Barbara Shawn and Victor (Dr. Ronda Barak-) Norris; loving papa of Rebecca (Brad) Kranig, Max Norris, and Jessica Norris; great grandfather of Mitchell and Connor Kranig; and brother of the late Irene Simon and the late Norton Norris.

The funeral will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 17, at the Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield. The chapel is located at 18325 W. Nine Mile Road, Southfield, MI 48075. Interment will be at Beth El Memorial Park, which is at 28120 Six Mile Road, Livonia, MI 48152.

Those who wish to extend condolences or share memories with the family may send them to the Family of Professor Emeritus Harold Norris, c/o Michigan State University College of Law, 648 N. Shaw Lane, Room 368, East Lansing, MI 48824-1300. You may also submit a tribute on our website.

Memorial donations may be made to the MSU Law Harold Norris Endowment. To make a donation, visit or call 517-432-6840.

Professor Harold Norris inspired generations of students to honor the best values of our legal system. We honor his memory best by remembering and upholding the lofty principles that inspired him every day.

Joan W. Howarth
Dean and Professor of Law, Michigan State University College of Law

Skip to main content, skip to search, or skip to the top of the page.