Today marks the 49th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s 1967 confirmation as the first African American Supreme Court Justice. The grandson of a slave, we remember and celebrate Justice Marshall as a champion of civil rights and universal equality.
As chief counsel for the NAACP, Marshall successfully argued 29 of his 32 cases before the Supreme Court, all of which challenged the ‘separate but equal’ ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In the landmark 1954 case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Marshall magnificently reasoned that the separate but equal doctrine was an unconstitutional method for keeping black people “as near slavery as possible,” effectively ending segregation in America’s public schools.
After serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then as solicitor general, President Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court where he tirelessly defended minority and abortion rights, including the historical decision in the case of Roe v. Wade (1973).
In 1980 he dissented in the case that upheld the Hyde Amendment, writing that “for women eligible for Medicaid – poor women – denial of a Medicaid-funded abortion is equivalent to denial of legal abortion altogether,” and that the bill was “a form of discrimination repugnant to the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Constitution (that) marks a retreat from Roe v. Wade and represents a cruel blow to the most powerless members of our society.”
Justice Marshall retired from the bench in 1991, and died in 1993, buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
This September, the Smithsonian will open the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which will feature a number of articles, photographs and memorabilia celebrating the legacy of Justice Marshall, an appropriate homage to a man who strived to ensure equality for all.