August 30, 1967– Thurgood Marshall is confirmed as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice
“We cannot play ostrich. Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. In the chill climate in which we live, we must go against the prevailing wind. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that has buried its head in the sand, waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”
50-years-ago. Marshall became the first African-American to be confirmed to SCOTUS. He was just 59-years-old when joined the nation’s highest court. Before that he was known as a tenacious, trailblazing lawyer who sued the government to end segregated public education in the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board Of Education case.
Marshall grew up in Maryland and attended Lincoln University. He applied to law school at the University of Maryland but was rejected because he was black.
Instead, he attended the historically black Howard University School of Law and then started a law practice and soon developed a reputation as a lawyer for those who were oppressed.
Marshall’s legacy includes his fight for integrated public education and affirmative action, which he believed was the remedy for hundreds of years of slavery and racism. I am certain that he would be most unhappy with the current administration and our Republican controlled Congress’ roll back of LGBTQ rights, and especially their attempts to end affirmative action.
Marshall was a vocal member of SCOTUS. His ascension to the highest court in the land began in 1961 when he was appointed to the US Court of Appeals by President John F. Kennedy.
He held that position until 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson made him Solicitor General. LBJ then appointed Marshall to SCOTUS when Justice Tom Clark retired in 1967. He was confirmed by the Senate with a 69-11 vote.
Marshall appreciated that the rule of law had a sort of moral consciousness. He was a Justice at a time in the history of this country when the rights of people of color were not enforced or even acknowledged. His presence there set the bar from which so much more followed.
Marshall joined a liberal SCOTUS headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, which aligned with Marshall’s views on the Constitution. He consistently supported rulings upholding strong protections of individual rights and liberal interpretations of controversial social issues. He was part of the majority that ruled in favor of the right to abortion in the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade. In 1972, Furman v. Georgia, led to a moratorium on the Death Penalty. In that case, Marshall articulated his opinion that the Death Penalty was unconstitutional in all circumstances.
During Marshall’s 24-years on the Court, Republican Presidents appointed eight Consecutive justices, and Marshall gradually became the isolated Liberal member of an increasingly Conservative SCOTUS. Towards the end of his time, Marshall was largely relegated to issuing strongly worded dissents, as SCOTUS reinstated the Death Penalty and limited Affirmative Action measures and Abortion Rights.
Thurgood Marshall, with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, was one of the great figures of the American Civil Rights Movement. He was instrumental in the country’s move towards Racial Equality. There have been films about Malcolm X, there is a national holiday to honor King, but every day we live with the legacy of Marshall’s time on the Supreme Court.
Marshall remained on the Supreme Court for 24-years until he retired because health reasons. He left this world in 1993.
Marshall, a new film about his life starring Chadwick Boseman (who plays Marvel’s Black Panther), with Empire’s openly gay hottie Jussie Smollett as the great gay writer Langston Hughes, opens in October.