Marshall, Thurgood

born July 2, 1908, Baltimore, Md., U.S.
died Jan. 24, 1993, Bethesda, Md.

U.S. jurist and civil-rights advocate.

He received his law degree from Howard University in 1933. From 1936 he worked for the NAACP, becoming its chief counsel in 1940. He won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court of the United States, including the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and others that established equal protection for African Americans in housing, voting, employment, and education. He served as U.S. solicitor general (1965–67) before being appointed in 1967 to the Supreme Court by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, becoming the first African American Supreme Court justice. Marshall was a steadfast liberal during his tenure on the Court, and he maintained his previous views concerning the need for equitable and just treatment of the nation's minorities by the state and federal governments. He retired in 1991.

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▪ 1994

      U.S. judge (b. July 2, 1908, Baltimore, Md.—d. Jan. 24, 1993, Bethesda, Md.), profoundly influenced civil rights legislation, first as a lawyer and chief counsel (1938-61) for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and then as the first African-American to sit (1967-91) as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall, the great-grandson of a freed slave, graduated (1930) from Lincoln University, in Lincoln University, Pa., before enrolling in Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he graduated magna cum laude in 1933. He had been denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because he was black. After joining the legal staff of the NAACP (1936) and launching an attack against state segregation, Marshall triumphed in a lawsuit that forced the University of Maryland to integrate. His most famous case, however, was the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which racial segregation in U.S. public schools was declared unconstitutional. With his characteristic plainspoken, forthright style, Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court (14 as a private lawyer and 18 as solicitor general), notably ones that eliminated racial discrimination in voting, housing, and public facilities. He had already established a reputation as "Mr. Civil Rights" when Pres. John F. Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1961; his confirmation, however, was stalled for nearly a year by Southern senators. After taking office in 1962, he strengthened constitutional safeguards against illegal searches and seizures in the home, struck down loyalty oaths for teachers, and curbed the power of immigration authorities to summarily deport aliens. In 1965 Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall solicitor general, and two years later he elevated him to the Supreme Court. Marshall's appointment produced a liberal majority in the conservative court, and he wrote a number of majority opinions, notably the 1969 decision in which the court ruled that private possession of pornography was not a crime and the 1972 ruling that struck down state capital punishment laws. An engaging raconteur, Marshall brought a unique and influential insight into the court, recounting his experiences in the South as a civil rights champion. Later, when Republican administrations appointed conservatives to the court, Marshall, a stalwart liberal, became known as the "great dissenter." He wrote minority opinions to a 1973 case in which the court ruled that a property tax system that unequally distributed resources did not violate the constitution and to a 1980 court ruling that stipulated that the government did not have to fund abortions for poor women. Through failing health Marshall remained on the court, but in June 1991 he announced his impending retirement (which became effective the following October), unable to wait any longer for an administration that would appoint a liberal to his seat. In 1993 two biographies appeared: Dream Makers, Dream Breakers by Carl T. Rowan and Thurgood Marshall by Michael D. Davis and Hunter R. Clark.

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▪ United States jurist
originally  Thoroughgood Marshall 
born July 2, 1908, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
died January 24, 1993, Bethesda

      lawyer, civil rights (civil rights movement) activist, and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1967–91), the first African American member of the Supreme Court. As an attorney, he successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Board of Education of Topeka (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka) (1954), which declared unconstitutional racial segregation (segregation, racial) in American public schools.

      Marshall was the son of William Canfield Marshall, a railroad porter and a steward at an all-white country club, and Norma Williams Marshall, an elementary school teacher. He graduated with honours from Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) in 1930. After being rejected by the University of Maryland Law School because he was not white, Marshall attended Howard University Law School; he received his degree in 1933, ranking first in his class. At Howard he was the protégé of Charles Hamilton Houston (Houston, Charles Hamilton), who encouraged Marshall and other law students to view the law as a vehicle for social change.

      Upon his graduation from Howard, Marshall began the private practice of law in Baltimore. Among his first legal victories was Murray v. Pearson (1935), in which Marshall successfully sued the University of Maryland for denying an African American applicant admission to its law school simply on the basis of race. In 1936 Marshall became a staff lawyer under Houston for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); in 1938 he became the lead chair in the legal office of the NAACP, and two years later he was named chief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

      Throughout the 1940s and '50s Marshall distinguished himself as one of the country's top lawyers, winning 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court (Supreme Court of the United States). Among them were cases in which the court declared unconstitutional a Southern state's exclusion of African American voters from primary elections (Smith v. Allwright [1944]), state judicial enforcement of racial “restrictive covenants (restrictive covenant)” in housing (Shelley v. Kraemer [1948]), and “separate but equal” facilities for African American professionals and graduate students in state universities (Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents [both 1950]). Without a doubt, however, it was his victory before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that established his reputation as a formidable and creative legal opponent and an advocate of social change. Indeed, students of constitutional law still examine the oral arguments of the case and the ultimate decision of the court from both a legal and a political perspective; legally, Marshall argued that segregation in public education produced unequal schools for African Americans and whites (a key element in the strategy to have the court overrule the “separate but equal” doctrine established in Ferguson (Plessy v. Ferguson) [1896]), but it was Marshall's reliance on psychological, sociological, and historical data that presumably sensitized the court to the deleterious effects of institutionalized segregation on the self-image, social worth, and social progress of African American children.

 In September 1961 Marshall was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President John F. Kennedy (Kennedy, John F.), but opposition from Southern senators delayed his confirmation for several months. President Lyndon B. Johnson (Johnson, Lyndon B.) named Marshall U.S. solicitor general in July 1965 and nominated him to the Supreme Court on June 13, 1967; Marshall's appointment to the Supreme Court was confirmed (69–11) by the U.S. Senate on August 30, 1967.

      During Marshall's tenure on the Supreme Court, he was a steadfast liberal, stressing the need for equitable and just treatment of the country's minorities by the state and federal governments. A pragmatic judicial activist, he was committed to making the U.S. Constitution work; most illustrative of his approach was his attempt to fashion a “sliding scale” interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause that would weigh the objectives of the government against the nature and interests of the groups affected by the law. Marshall's sliding scale was never adopted by the Supreme Court, though in several major civil rights cases of the 1970s the court echoed Marshall's views. He was also adamantly opposed to capital punishment and generally favoured the rights of the national government over the rights of the states.

      Marshall served on the Supreme Court as it underwent a period of major ideological change. In his early years on the bench, he fit comfortably among a liberal majority under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren (Warren, Earl). As the years passed, however, many of his closest allies, including Warren, either retired or died in office, creating opportunities for Republican presidents to swing the pendulum of activism in a conservative direction. By the time he retired in 1991, he was known as “the Great Dissenter,” one of the last remaining liberal members of a Supreme Court dominated by a conservative majority.

Brian P. Smentkowski

Additional Reading
Biographies and studies of Marshall's career include Michael D. Davis and Hunter R. Clark, Thurgood Marshall: Warrior at the Bar, Rebel at the Bench, updated and rev. ed. (1994); Roger L. Goldman and David Gallen, Thurgood Marshall: Justice for All (1992); Carl T. Rowan, Dream Makers, Dream Breakers: The World of Justice Thurgood Marshall (1993, reissued 2002); Randall W. Bland, Private Pressure on Public Law: The Legal Career of Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1934–1991, rev. ed. (1993); Mark V. Tushnet, Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936–1961 (1994, reissued 1996), and Making Constitutional Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1961–1991 (1997); Howard Ball, A Life Defiant: Thurgood Marshall and the Persistence of Racism in America (1998); and Juan Williams, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (1998, reissued 2000).Brian P. Smentkowski

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Universalium. 2010.

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