The following review by Kenneth C. Burt appeared in Western Legal History: The Journal of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society, Vol. 19, No. 1 & 2 (2006). Mail date: February 2009.

By James Elton McMillan, Jr. (Prescott, Ariz: Sharlot Hall Museum Press, 2004; 618 pp; illustrations, notes, appendixes, bibliography, index; $29.95 cloth.)

In this well-researched tome, James McMillan captures the life and times of a little-known but historic figure who helped shape Arizona and the nation. This definitive study is certain to bring new attention to Ernest W. McFarland, a practical and generally moderate politician, who has been eclipsed by fellow Arizonans Barry Goldwater and Morris and Stewart Udall.

The McFarland biography also is the fulfillment of a twenty-year labor of love, so it is not surprising that the author portrays the subject sympathetically. McMillan began to process McFarland’s papers as a graduate student and, in the process, become an expert on the older man’s life. Transitioning from archivist to author, McMillan used McFarland as subject to write an award-winning article in the Journal of American History and toedit The Ernest W. McFarland Papers: The United States Senate Years, 1940-1952, before completing his dissertation.
McMillan then turned the dissertation into what is a well-organized, clearly written book. Along the way he worked with a host of experts on Arizona history and utilized a number of archival resources in Arizona and Oklahoma, as well as varied presidential libraries.

McFarland, most remarkably, was the sole person ever to head all three branches of government at the state or federal level: majority leader of the U.S. Senate, governor of Arizona, and chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, McFarland earned a bachelor’s degree before serving in World War I, after which he moved to Arizona, then in its seventh year as a state. The ambitious young man entered law school at Stanford in 1920 but returned to his adopted state to gain work experience, clerking for a firm whose senior partner, Republican Judge John C. Phillips, served as governor in 1928.

Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1940, McFarland was a Roosevelt Democrat. He made the national news for the first time when he defended the Hollywood film studios against isolationists who attacked the industry for using newsreels to cover Nazi military advances and for producing films such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

McFarland also served as the father of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (GI Bill of Rights). More than any other measure, the GI Bill created the modern middle class by providing funds for veterans to attend college, buy a home, or start a business.

McFarland was defeated for reelection in 1952 by Barry Goldwater, a harbinger of an emerging conservative and libertarian Republican insurgence in the Southwest. Bouncing back, McFarland returned to public service as Arizona’s tenth governor, winning election in 1954 and 1956. He sought to modernize a state that was moving toward its first million residents by focusing on civil rights, roads, schools, taxes, water, and welfare. The governor also updated the state’s law code, rewriting it in layman’s language so that it could be easily understood.

McFarland, first elected to the bench in 1922, returned to the judiciary after years in private practice as an elected member of the state supreme court in 1964. It was a time of tumult. One of his decisions—known as Miranda v. Arizona—was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and is forever associated with the debate over law and order.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, long a political ally, tapped McFarland in 1968, while he was a state supreme court justice, to serve on the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. Despite a busy calendar and his being in his seventies, McFarland regularly flew to Washington, D.C., for meetings.

For fifty years, Ernest W. McFarland engaged an ever-changing nation even as he sought to advance the interests of Arizona, helping to transform it from a geographically isolated territory to a thriving state in a dynamic and growing region.