William Joseph Campbell

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William Joseph Campbell (March 19, 1905 – October 19, 1988) was a United States federal judge and the longest serving Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In 1970 the Library of the United States Courts of the Seventh Circuit was named "The William J. Campbell Library of the United States Courts.". Judge Campbell's son is the former five-term U.S. Representative Tom Campbell of California.

Early life[edit]

William Joseph Campbell was born in Chicago, and was a graduate of St. Rita High School. He received an J.D. degree from Loyola University in 1926 and an LL.M. from the same school in 1928.[1][2][3]

Admitted to the Illinois Bar, he was an attorney for Travelers Insurance Company in Chicago from 1925 to 1930, Campbell was in Private Practice in Chicago until 1940, opening the firm of Campbell and Burns.[1] The new firm's first major client was the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. It was at this time that Campbell first got involved in Chicago Democratic politics.[2]

An early supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Campbell formed the Young Democrats for Roosevelt in 1932. For his efforts he was named Illinois administrator for the president's National Youth Administration in 1935 where he served until 1938 when he38 he was designated United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois where he served until 1940. As a federal prosecutor, he helped convict Al Capone of tax evasion and challenged the city's political leaders and their system of influence.


On September 24, 1940, Campbell was nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a new seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois created by 54 Stat. 219.[1] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 7, 1940, and received his commission on October 10, 1940.[1] Early in his time on the bench he conducted one of the few treason trials ever held in the United States.[2]

He served as chief judge of the court from 1959 to 1970, assuming senior status on March 19, 1970. While continuing his federal judicial service in this capacity, he was also assistant director of the Federal Judicial Center from 1971 until his death, in 1988, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

When Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter died in 1965, many thought Campbell was certain to be appointed to the Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson instead chose Abe Fortas, who resigned four years later. When asked about the missed opportunity many years later, Campbell said, "Although I knew Johnson intimately and personally, he was bigoted enough not to want two Catholics on the Supreme Court."

In 1965, Campbell took on Chicago kingpin Sam Giancana. When Giancana was asked to testify before a Chicago Grand Jury, he invoked his fifth amendment right to remain silent. Campbell granted Giancana immunity from prosecution and ordered him to testify. After Giancana refused, he spent the next year in jail on contempt charges.

At the time of his death, he was the longest-tenured federal judge in the United States.[2]


Although Campbell is regarded as a forefather in the state of today's justice system, he has been criticized by some prominent investigative persons for his actions. In 1947, General Motors and a number of its allies in the scheme to buy out all trolley systems in the U.S., using a number of front corporations (thereby wiping out railway competition with vehicle competition), were indicted on federal anti-trust charges. Two years later the workings were exposed during a trial in Chicago. The investigative journalist Jonathan Kwitny later argued that the case was "A fine example of what can happen when important matters of public policy are abandoned by government to the self-interest of corporations." Judge William J.Campbell was not so outraged. As punishment, he ordered GM and the other companies to pay a fine of $5,000 each. The executives were fined $1 each. The actions by GM and its allies illegally created zero competition and opened the automobile production to America without further challenge.[4]

Award and honors[edit]

  • Silver Buffalo Award, 1946
  • Loyola University; LL.D. 1955
  • Lincoln College; LL.D. 1960
  • Duquesne College; Litt.D., 1965
  • Barat College; J.C.D. 1966
  • Chicagoan of the Year in 1965
  • Lincoln Laureate in Law in 1970.
  • Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award, 1986.

See also[edit]




Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Succeeded by
Ruben Castillo