Thurgood Marshall

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Marshall played a major role in the civil rights movement and as an attorney helped to establish major changes in discriminatory law in the United States. He became the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court and was known for his logic as well as his sense of humor.

Born in 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland, Marshall attended Howard University where he achieved his law degree. In his early days as an attorney, Marshall took many cases to defend African Americans in court. He was very aware of the injustices that the black community were experiencing during that time and he became legal counsel to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

His position as attorney led him to win a case “Brown v. Board of Education” that officially ended racial discrimination in the public school system. It was deemed that the practice of segregation was a violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. This case led him to become nationally known and a hero in the eyes of those that wanted racial equality. The passage of this ruling helped in the civil rights movement as it increased in popularity across the country and Marshall become one of the most well-known and popular attorneys.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy was the new President of the United States and he appointed Marshall as a U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge. Marshall served in this position for over four years, making over one hundred decisions and none were overturned by the Supreme Court. This kind of record was unusual and represented the type of sharp, logical and equitable decision making that Marshall was known for.

After the assignation of President Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson became president and appointed Thurgood Marshall to serve as U.S. solicitor general. He was the first African American to have this post, which was the attorney who had to argue on behalf of the federal government before the Supreme Court. Marshall won 14 out of 18 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court over the two year time period that he served as solicitor general.

Thurgood Marshall

In 1967, Marshall was nominated and then sworn in as a member of the United States Supreme Court. This was the highest court in the nation and Marshall was the first African American to serve in this position. In the position of Supreme Court justice, Marshall always stood on the side of individual rights with a more liberal interpretation of many of the social issues of the time.

 

Marshall spent 24 years as part of the Supreme Court and his more liberal views became somewhat outnumbered as Republican (conservative) presidents appointed other members that shared the same conservative attitude. Due to the fact that he became outnumbered, he spent the last few years making very strong worded dissents against policies and decisions that he felt were wrong.

In 1991, Marshall retired from the Supreme Court and was replaced by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, also an African American.