On June 13, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated former NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall to serve as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. President Johnson said at the time:
"I believe he earned his appointment. He deserves the appointment. He's the best qualified by training and by very valuable service to the country. I believe it's the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man, and the right place."
a heated debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Justice Marshall was confirmed by a vote of 69-11 on August 30, 1967.
Though Justice Marshall is often remembered as the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court, his professional background is worth noting as well. Immediately after law school, he opened his own law firm, handling civil rights matters for impoverished men and women in Baltimore, Maryland. Then in 1937, he went to work for the NAACP, becoming one of the chief architects of the legal strategy to end school segregation that led to Brown v. Board of Education
, one of the 29 cases Justice Marshall won before the Supreme Court. He remained at the NAACP until 1961, when he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. His confirmation was delayed by a number of Senators and President Kennedy appointed him to the bench during a Congressional recess. He served as a recess appointee to the Second Circuit for several months before receiving a full vote and confirmation in the Senate. In 1965, President Johnson nominated him to be U.S. Solicitor General.
As Justice Byron R. White wrote in "A Tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall," 44 Stan. L. Rev. 1215, 1216 (1992):
“Thurgood brought to the conference table years of experience in an area that was of vital importance to our work, experience that none of us could claim to match. Thurgood could tell us the way it was, and he did so convincingly, often embellishing with humorous, sometimes hair-raising, stories straight from his own past. He characteristically would tell us things that we knew but would rather forget; and he told us much that we did not know due to the limitations of our own experience.”
This type of experiential diversity is sorely lacking on today's federal bench. You can read more about this dearth of diversity, which we believe has led to judicial hostility to workers' rights cases, in NELA's Report, Judicial Hostility To Workers’ Rights: The Case For Professional Diversity On The Federal Bench
. NELA is committed to working with the Obama Administration to shepherd professionally diverse candidates for federal judgeships through the vetting, nomination, and confirmation processes as a means of ensuring that workers receive equal justice under the law, as well as enhancing the quality of decision making for litigants in employment cases. In doing so, we remember the contributions of Justice Marshall to the Supreme Court and to these shared values.
If you would like more information about becoming a federal judicial candidate, are a candidate for a federal judicial vacancy who would like to be endorsed by NELA, or know someone who NELA should consider endorsing, please contact Rebecca M. Hamburg, NELA Program Director, firstname.lastname@example.org