This Day in History… August 30, 1967

Thurgood Marshall Appointed Supreme Court Justice 

U.S. #3746

On August 30, 1967, Thurgood Marshall became America’s first African American Supreme Court Justice.

The great-grandson of slaves, Marshall graduated first in his class at Howard University Law School. In 1934, he began a 21-year affiliation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall was the first director-counsel of the NAACP’s legal defense and education fund.

Marshall won a series of important civil rights cases during the 1930s and won 29 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Based on his impressive record, the United Nations asked Marshall to help draft the constitutions of the emerging African nations of Ghana and what is now Tanzania.

Marshall successfully challenged the “separate but equal” principle in 1954. By persuading the U.S. Supreme Court that there could be no equality when determinations were based solely on skin color, Marshall laid the foundation for desegregation in America.

President Lyndon Johnson appointed Marshall the first black solicitor general of the United States in 1965. Two years later, when Supreme Court Associate Justice Tom C. Clark was retiring, President Johnson appointed Marshall to fill his seat. The president proclaimed, it was “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.” Marshall’s nomination was controversial at the time and caused a heated debate in the Senate. But on August 30, the Senate confirmed his nomination by a vote of 69 to 11. He was sworn in two days later, making history as the first African American in the nation’s highest court.

During his 24 years as a justice, Marshall fiercely challenged discrimination of all kinds and fought against the death penalty. He also supported the rights of criminal defendants as well as women’s right to abortion. During Marshall’s tenure he contributed to other areas of law including fair representation, securities law, and the savings and loan crisis. According to Marshall, his political philosophy was to “do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” His conservative opponents criticized this as a form of judicial activism. By 1991, Marshall’s liberal ideals left him in the minority amongst a largely Republican-led government, which led to his retirement. He died just two years later.

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