Thurgood Marshall

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Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. He was born Thoroughgood Marshall, but he shortened it to Thurgood while in elementary school.

Mr. Marshall was well known for dedicating his life to studying the rule of law, as well as fighting racism and discrimination. He faced racism on a regular basis, even being denied acceptance into the University of Maryland Law School because he was African American. He was able to integrate this school by winning a lawsuit in Murray v. Pearson, which prevented another African American student from studying there on account of race.

Mr. Marshall worked hard to chip away at the doctrine of "separate but equal" created by Plessy v. Ferguson. In 1938, he was appointed by Charles Hamilton Houston, chief legal counsel for the NAACP at the time, to serve as the leader of NAACP lawyers to argue in civil rights cases before the Supreme Court. Between 1938 and 1961, he argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court and won 29 of them. Some cases include Smith v. Allwright (1944), which extended voting rights and desegregation by holding that primary elections cannot be restricted to any race. Other cases include Morgan v. Virginia (1946), which was regarding state segregation laws for interstate buses. Mr. Marshall argued in this case that the laws were unconstitutional because they violated the Interstate Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, successfully overturning them. In 1950, in "Sweatt v. Painter", he was able to chip away at Plessy even more when the Supreme Court ruled that state law schools must accept applicants regardless of race, even if "separate but equal" schools exist.

However, Mr. Marshall's greatest Supreme Court victory was Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in education, dissolved the doctrine of "separate but equal," overturning the Plessy decision, and extended many of the rulings of previous cases he won before the Supreme Court. The ruling thrilled African Americans, as well as people of all other races. The Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, declared after the ruling, "Neither the atom bomb nor the hydrogen bomb will ever be as meaningful to our democracy as the unanimous declaration of the Supreme Court that racial segregation violates the spirit and the letter of our Constitution." [1]

Years later, in 1961, Mr. Marshall was appointed by then President John F. Kennedy to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In 1965, he was chosen by then President Lyndon B. Johnson to be US solicitor general. Two years later, in 1967, President Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court of the United States, becoming the first African American ever to be an Associate Justice there.

Mr. Marshall served as Associate Justice from 1967 to 1991. He was known for his very liberal positions. Like most liberal Justices, he favored "loose constructionism," which meant a loose interpretation of the Constitution to expand civil rights and liberties. Some of his majority opinions include Benton v. Maryland (1969), which protected a man named John Dalmer Benton from double jeopardy after facing two trials on larceny, finding that his second trial constituted double jeopardy, a violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Constitution. Another majority opinion in which he wrote was in Dunn v. Blumstein (1972), in which he expanded voting and traveling rights. He was also a supporter of abortion rights, joining the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, was a staunch supporter of civil rights, and extended rights to accused persons. He voted alongside Justice William Brennan on a number of cases, including the death penalty. Both believed in both Furman v. Georgia and Gregg v. Georgia that the death penalty inherently violated the ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" in the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution.

Mr. Marshall's health deteriorated in 1991, so he retired from the Supreme Court then. He was replaced by Clarence Thomas, another African American. In 1992, he was awarded the Liberty Medal for extending individual rights while serving in the Supreme Court. He died on January 24, 1993, in Bethesda, Maryland. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. At his memorial service, a copy of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling was placed beside his casket, on which an admirer wrote, "You shall always be remembered."[2]


  1. Teaching Tolerance: BROWN V. BOARD: An American Legacy
  2. Fanfare for an Uncommon Man - TIME,9171,977658-1,00.html