John F. Kennedy’s nomination of Thurgood Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals

Thurgood Marshall (1908 – 1993) is an iconic figure in American legal history, primarily recognized for his work in civil rights and his eventual service on the U.S. Supreme Court. Before his appointment to the highest court, his legal journey involved several significant steps, one of which was his appointment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy nominated Thurgood Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This nomination was noteworthy for several reasons:

Breaking Racial Barriers

Marshall’s nomination and later appointment was groundbreaking because he was the first African American to hold this position. This was a notable achievement during an era when racial segregation and discrimination were rampant in many parts of the country.

The Baltimore-born was famed for being a leading civil rights attorney, best known for successfully arguing the landmark case “Brown v. Board of Education” before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, which resulted in the court declaring racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Thurgood Marshall (center), George Edward Chalmer Hayes, and James Nabrit congratulate one another after the US Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Contentious Confirmation

Despite his stellar qualifications, Marshall faced a protracted confirmation process in the Senate due to opposition from southern senators. It took nearly a year before he was confirmed in September 1962. The Senate confirmed him by a 56–14 vote.

Prolific Jurist

During his tenure on the Second Circuit (from 1961 to 1965), Marshall penned over 95 decisions, and none of these were overturned by the Supreme Court.

Stepping Stone to the Supreme Court

President John F. Kennedy’s decision to appoint Black individuals, including Marshall, to significant positions was an essential step towards diversifying the federal government and acknowledging the contributions and capacities of Black Americans in leadership roles. Image: Marshall meeting with US President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office of the White House on the day that the Maryland-born attorney was nominated by Johnson to serve on the Supreme Court

Serving on the Court of Appeals enhanced Marshall’s visibility and reputation, which eventually paved the way for his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated him, and Marshall became the first African American justice to serve on the Supreme Court.

Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1976. Marshall is in the bottom row, first from the right.

READ MORE: Women Justices of the US Supreme Court


Thurgood Marshall’s appointment to the Second Circuit was not just a personal achievement but a symbol of the incremental progress being made in the realm of civil rights and racial integration in the judiciary during the 1960s.

His tenure on the court solidified his reputation as a fair-minded, brilliant jurist, setting the stage for his historic appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The appointment of Marshall to the federal bench was a clear statement by the Kennedy administration of its intentions to support the civil rights movement and work towards racial integration in the country. Image: President John F. Kennedy meetings with leaders of the March on Washington in the Oval Office, August 28, 1963

READ MORE: 10 Lesser-Known Facts about JFK

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