In the coming days, President Biden will nominate a black female justice to the Supreme Court. In honor of his historic decision, King Law Firm celebrates Black History Month with a look back at the first black Supreme Court Justice to grace the bench, the honorable Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Who is Thurgood Marshall?
Thurgood Marshall was born July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland to blue-collar workers William and Norma. Together, they instilled in Marshall a deep love of the Constitution and the rule of law. Marshall’s father fostered the young man’s debate skills by challenging his logic and forcing him to prove his beliefs whenever possible. He would also take him to view court cases on a regular basis.
Marshall graduated cum laude from Lincoln University in 1930 with degrees in American literature and philosophy. He went on to study at Howard University School of Law, graduating magna cum laude in 1933.
Shortly thereafter he built his own private practice in his hometown of Baltimore. In 1934, Marshall began his long affiliation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), setting the building blocks for his historic future.
- Founded and was Chief Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
- Argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on many civil rights cases, winning 29 out of 32 cases. This included the successful argument in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled segregation in schools as unconstitutional because “separate but equal” could not truly be equal in public education.
- Was appointed to the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals by John F. Kennedy, a position he held for four years.
- Became the first black man to be appointed as the Solicitor General of the United States, winning 14 of 19 cases during his tenure.
Happy with his performance as Solicitor General, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Marshall to the United States Supreme Court in 1967. He was confirmed by the Senate on August 30 of that year, officially making him the first black man to be appointed to the highest court in the United States. He would go on to build a storied record supporting the protection of individual rights of the most vulnerable Americans until his retirement in 1991. He would die of heart failure two years later.
Marshall paved the way for the court to begin to diversify. Before his nomination, the Supreme Court had been ruled by white males. Today, there are two persons of color and three female justices sitting on the Supreme Court. Pending confirmation, this will again change in the next few weeks, all thanks to Marshall’s tenacity and passion for individual rights and the path he laid for those to follow.
“The legal system can force open doors, and sometimes-even knock down walls, but it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me. The country can’t do it. Afro and White, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, our fates are bound together. We can run from each other, but we cannot escape each other.” – Thurgood Marshall