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Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 - January 24, 1993) was an American civil rights lawyer and judge who served on the United States Supreme Court as an associate justice from 1967 to 1991. He was the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court. Prior to his court career, he was a civil rights attorney who led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall oversaw the campaign to end racial segregation in schools.

He won 29 of the 32 civil rights cases he fought before the Supreme Court, culminating in the Court's famous 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which rejected the separate but equal theory and declared public school segregation unconstitutional. In 1967, Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He frequently dissented as the Court moved toward conservatism because he was a fervent liberal.

Early Life

Marshall, who was raised in Baltimore, Maryland, attended both the Howard University School of Law and Lincoln University. Charles Hamilton Houston, a mentor to him at Howard University, encouraged his students to become "social engineers" ready to use the legal system to advance civil rights. Marshall started a law business in Baltimore but soon moved to New York to work with Houston at the NAACP.

They collaborated on the Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada segregation lawsuit; after Houston left for Washington, Marshall took over as the NAACP's special counsel and was named director-counsel of the newly established NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Smith v. Allwright, Morgan v. Virginia, Shelley v. Kraemer, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, Sweatt v. Painter, Brown, and Cooper v. Aaron were only a few of the important Supreme Court decisions in which he took part. His strategy for handling desegregation lawsuits focused on using sociological facts to demonstrate how unfair segregation was by nature.

Marshall was nominated by President John F. Kennedy to the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 1961 and supported a broad interpretation of the constitution's protections there. Johnson gave him the position of U.S. Solicitor General four years later. To replace Justice Tom C. Clark on the Supreme Court, Johnson nominated Marshall in 1967. In spite of resistance from Southern senators, Marshall was confirmed by a vote of 69 to 11. During the dependably liberal Warren Court era, Marshall frequently found himself in the majority, but after Nixon's picks made the Court more conservative, Marshall frequently found himself in the minority. Justice William J. Brennan Jr. was his closest partner on the court, and the two generally agreed on how to vote.

Marshall's law was practical and based on his practical experience. His "sliding-scale" approach to the Equal Protection Clause, which is widely regarded as his most important contribution to constitutional jurisprudence, instructed courts to employ a flexible balancing test rather than a more strict tier-based examination. He and Brennan dissented in more than 1,400 cases where the majority refused to review a death sentence because they vehemently opposed the death penalty, which they believed to be cruel and unusual punishment. In instances like Stanley v. Georgia, he embraced a broad reading of the First Amendment, and he backed abortion rights in Roe v. Wade and other cases. In 1991, Marshall stepped down from the Supreme Court, and Clarence Thomas took his position. 1993 saw his passing.

Legal Career

Marshall established a law business in Baltimore, but it struggled to make money in part because he devoted a lot of his time to serving the community. He worked as a volunteer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Baltimore (NAACP). On behalf of Donald Gaines Murray, an African-American whose candidacy to the university's law school had been denied due to his colour, Marshall and Houston filed a lawsuit against the University of Maryland in 1935. The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld Judge Eugene O'Dunne's admission order in Murray v. Pearson, ruling that it was unequal protection to allow white students to the law school while prohibiting black students from receiving in-state education.

Marshall's triumph was the first in a long line of judicial rulings mandating desegregation in public institutions like schools and other governmental bodies. In 1936, Marshall relocated to New York City to work as Houston's assistant. Houston had just been named the NAACP's special counsel. They collaborated on the significant Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada case (1938). Additionally, he was appointed director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. (the Inc Fund), a separate entity created for taxation purposes. He was in charge of raising money, running the Inc Fund, handling public relations, and litigating disputes and making arguments before the Supreme Court.

A significant player in the civil rights movement, Marshall took on several lawsuits alleging unequal pay for African-Americans and won nearly all of them. By 1945, he had put an end to pay discrepancies in several Southern cities. 1500 He also represented people accused of crimes in front of lower courts as well as the Supreme Court. 1500 Marshall successfully argued thirty-two civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, winning twenty-nine of them. In Smith v. Allwright (1944), he and W. J. Durham drafted the brief in which the Supreme Court declared the white primary unconstitutional. He also successfully argued the cases of Morgan v. Virginia (1946), involving racial segregation on interstate buses, and Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), involving racially restrictive covenants.

After six hours of debate, senators voted 69-11 to approve Marshall to the Supreme Court on August 30. On October 2, 1967, he took the constitutional oath of office, becoming the first African-American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Marshall stayed on the Supreme Court for nearly twenty-four years, retiring in 1991.

Personal Life

On September 4, 1929, while still a student at Lincoln University, Marshall married Vivian "Buster" Burey. They were married till she died of cancer in 1955. Eleven months later, Marshall married Cecilia "Cissy" Suyat, an NAACP secretary, and they had two children: Thurgood Jr. and John. (Thurgood Jr. went on to become an attorney and served in the Clinton administration, while John commanded the US Marshals Service and was Virginia's secretary of public safety.) Marshall was a delegate to the Episcopal Church's 1964 conference, where he walked out after a proposal to acknowledge the right to disobey immoral segregation laws was defeated.

He was a Prince Hall Mason, and he attended meetings and ceremonies. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who served on the Supreme Court with Marshall for a decade, wrote that "it was rare during our conference deliberations that he would not share an anecdote, a joke, or a story"; At the same time, O'Connor initially dismissed the stories as "welcome diversions," she later "realised that behind most of the anecdotes was a relevant legal point."

Marshall did not want to retire-he regularly stated, "I was nominated to a life term, and I plan to fulfil it"-but he had been in poor health for many years, and Brennan's retirement from the Court in 1990 left him unhappy and alone.

On June 27, 1991, the eighty-two-year-old jurist announced his retirement. When asked at a news conference what was wrong with him that would lead to his departure from the Court, he replied: "What's the matter with me? I'm old. I'm growing old and falling apart! ". President George H. W. Bush (who Marshall despised) selected Clarence Thomas, a conservative who served in both the Reagan and Bush administrations, to succeed him. His resignation became effective on October 1. In January 1992, Marshall spent a week as a visiting judge on the Second Circuit, and in August of the same year, he was given the highest honour by the American Bar Association.

His condition worsened, and on January 25, 1993, he passed away from heart failure at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center. He had a ripe old age of 84. Thousands of people flocked to the Supreme Court's Great Hall where Marshall was laid to rest, to pay their respects, and more than 4,000 people showed out for his funeral service in the National Cathedral. Vernon E. Jordan, a prominent civil rights activist, claimed that Marshall had "demonstrated that the law might be a tool for emancipation," Chief Justice William Rehnquist remarked in a eulogy, adding that the words "Equal justice under law" are engraved above the entrance to the Supreme Court building. Thurgood Marshall perhaps contributed the most to making these statements a reality." At the Arlington National Cemetery, Marshall was laid to rest.


Marshall "profoundly influenced the political trajectory of the United States," "changed constitutional law," and "offered up new features of citizenship to Black Americans," according to academic Daniel Moak. According to political scientist Robert C. Smith, he was "one of the greatest leaders in the history of the African-American movement for freedom and equality." For Tushnet, he was "perhaps the most significant American lawyer of the twentieth century." Marshall was ranked among the top ten African-American leaders in history by black political scientists in a 1999 survey; the panellists called him the "greatest jurist of the twentieth century" and said he "spearheaded the construction of the legal foundations of the civil rights struggle."

Marshall's image has suffered because of the idea that he lacked significant influence over the other justices, even though his pre-Supreme Court legal career and ardent liberalism have received widespread approbation. He was "one of America's best public lawyers, but he was not a brilliant Supreme Court justice," in Abraham's opinion. Marshall was regarded as the seventeenth-greatest justice of the Supreme Court in a 1993 survey of legal scholars; while this ranking was still lower than that of his fellow liberal justices, it was significantly higher than that found in the earlier survey.

Many others have paid Marshall honour. In 2005, the state of Maryland renamed the airport in Baltimore to the Thurgood Marshall International Airport, and the University of Maryland's law library bears his name. The federal judicial complex in Washington and the 590-foot-tall Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in New York, where Marshall presided as an appellate judge, are among the structures that bear his name.

He is the subject of streets and colleges all around the country. President Bill Clinton awarded Marshall the Presidential Medal of Freedom after his death in 1993, and in 2003, the USPS released a commemorative stamp in his honour. Sidney Poitier portrayed him in the 1991 television film Separate but Equal, Laurence Fishburne portrayed him in the Broadway production of Thurgood by George Stevens Jr., and Chadwick Boseman portrayed him in the 2017 film Marshall.

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