Born in New York City, Gurfein attended Columbia College and Harvard Law School. After graduating, he served as a law clerk to Judge Julian Mack and then as an Assistant United States Attorney in New York. He also served as an assistant in the District Attorney's office in Manhattan. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. After military service, he was an assistant to Robert H. Jackson during Jackson's service as the U.S. prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials. He then returned to New York where he practiced as a lawyer from 1946 to 1971.
In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Gurfein as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. During his first week as a judge, Gurfein was assigned the Pentagon Papers case and gained national prominence when he refused the government's motion to enjoin publication of the documents. Gurfein's ruling was initially reversed by the Court of Appeals, but ultimately reinstated by the Supreme Court. Gurfein wrote: "The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, an ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know."
After three years on the District Court, Gurfein was promoted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, also headquartered in Manhattan. Gurfein served on the Court of Appeals from 1974 until his death in 1979.
- United States v. N.Y. Times Co., 328 F. Supp. 324, 331 (S.D.N.Y. 1971).
- Murray Gurfein at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
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