On July 13, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall to become the first African-American Solicitor General; Marshall would go on to become the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court.
Justice Marshall – chief counsel in the Brown v. Board of Education case, which ended legal segregation in public schools – was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President John F. Kennedy, Johnson’s predecessor in 1961.
Thurgood Marshall was approved for the Supreme Court by the Senate (by a 69-11 vote) in August of 1967, serving for over two decades.
His conservative detractors argued he over-embraced judicial activism over the rule of law.
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He compiled a liberal record, which included strong support for Constitutional protection of individual rights, abortion rights and opposition to the death penalty. Marshall’s most frequent ally on the court was Justice William Brennan, nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Marshall delivered a controversial speech at the bicentennial celebration of the Constitution of the United States, which included: “The government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations,” to attain a governing system now considered respectable by the people, according to Marshall.
“Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled,” he added.
Marshall was also involved in landmark rulings involving labor unions, securities law and income taxes. He retired in 1991; President George H.W. Bush nominated his replacement, Clarence Thomas.
Thurgood Marshall died of heart failure in 1993. He was 84.
“You do what you think is right and let the law catch up,” said Marshall.