Thurgood Marshall: Fast Facts, Supreme Court Cases, and Accomplishments

US Supreme Court Justice

Thurgood Marshall accomplishments

Fast Facts: Thurgood Marshall

Born: Thoroughgood Marshall

Date of Birth: July 2, 1908

Place of birth: Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.

Death: January, 24, 1993; Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.

Burial Place: Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia

Parents: William Canfield Marshall and Norma Arica Williams

Education: Frederick Douglass High School; Lincoln University, Pennsylvania; Howard University School of Law

Spouse: Vivian Buster Burey (1929-1955); Cecilia Suyat (married in 1955)

Children: Thurgood Marshall Jr. and John W. Marshall

Political Party: Democrat

Famous positions held: Solicitor General of the United States (1961-1965); Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1967-1991)

Most known for: First African-American Supreme Court justice (1967-1991); Being a vocal civil rights activist; The U.S. Supreme Court case Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940)

Most famous cases: Smith v. Allwright (1944); Brown v. Board of Education (1940)

Influenced: Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; Professor Susan Low Bloch; Judge Ralph Winter of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Paul Gewirtz; Eben Moglen; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

Accomplishments of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall in 1957

Prior to his appointment to the position of associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Thurgood Marshall made huge waves as a civil rights activist/lawyer. Marshall famously argued numerous cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The most famous of those cases was Brown v. Board of Education in 1940.

Thurgood Marshall served on the bench of our nation’s highest court (the U.S. Supreme Court) from October 1967 to October 1991. As a justice in the court, Justice Marshall was a vocal advocate of racial equality, individual, women’s and civil rights.  He holds a memorable place in the collective minds of Americans because he devoted the bulk of his life defending the rights and freedoms of minorities in the United States.

The article below captures 10 major accomplishments of Thurgood Marshall:

Protested vehemently against racial segregation laws

Marshall grew up in an era when racial segregation laws (i.e. Jim Crow) in the United States were rife. Starting from an early age, he always embraced opportunities that allowed him to push back against racial segregation laws using legal means. For example, he showcased this in his sophomore year when he protested against racial segregation laws in public facilities, especially at film theaters.

Developed a strong working relationship with the NAACP

Determined to continue his pursuit for racial equality and social transformational laws, Marshall set his sights on creating a successful private law practice after graduating from the Howard University of Law School. After establishing his law firm, Marshall proceeded to form a strong alliance with the National Association for the Advancement of colored People (NAACP).

Won the Murray v. Pearson case of 1936

On several occasions he served as the legal counsel for the NAACP. In 1934, for example, Marshall offered his legal services for the Murray v. Pearson case. The case saw Marshall argue that it was unconstitutional for the University of Maryland Law School to use segregation laws to deny admission to Donald Gaines Murray – a black student from Amherst College. He argued that such practice was a gross violation of the “separate but equal” doctrine from the case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Marshall emerged victorious in that case by making very logical arguments before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Emerged victorious in the Supreme Court case Chambers v. Florida (1940)

In 1940, Marshall, 32 years at the time, argued before the Supreme Court in the landmark case – Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940). The case involved analyzing how the police and interrogators’ use of pressure in some way violated the Due Process clause.

Thurgood represented four black men (including Mr. Chambers) who were convicted of killing a white man in Florida. Marshall argued that the state of Florida held the defendants without giving them any legal counsel. It was also stated that interrogators ploughed through the questioning session without informing the defendants of their rights to remain silent, which resulted in the defendants confessing to the murder. The defendants were later convicted and given the death sentences.

After making a sound argument before the Supreme Court, Marshall was able to secure a decision in favor of the defendants. The defendants’ earlier convictions were overturned by the court because the police officers broke the law by not following due process as they compelled the defendants to give out their confessions.

Founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Following his his high profile argument before the Supreme Court in the case Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940), Thurgood Marshall and his associates founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). The fund was aimed at promoting structural and social changes in the community. Marshall hoped that those changes would lead to the elimination of racial disparities, which would in turn create an environment free of racial discrimination. To this day, the LDF, which is currently based in New York City, continues to take on several cases involving minorities in the United States and across the world.

Won the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Marshall was heavily involved during the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case of 1954. In the end, the Supreme Court passed a verdict on May 17, 1954, which made it unconstitutional for racial segregation in public schools to go on. It was a huge case which caused considerable amount of racial tension in the United States. Marshall was at the heart of it all from start to finish.

Kind courtesy to his arguments, the court arrived at a unanimous decision (9-0) and stated that segregation in public schools, regardless of whether the facilities were the same in the segregated schools, resulted in inherently unequal quality. Marshall was able to prove to the court that segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The verdict in so many ways overruled the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Fergusson (1896) which held the doctrine of “separate but equal”.

Thurgood Marshall won Smith v. Allwright, 339 U.S. 649 (1944)

This case was in relation to voting rights for blacks. After a lengthy argument before the Supreme Court, Marshall successfully convinced the court to overturn the state of Texas law that allowed political parties to adopt racial laws to the disadvantage of blacks. The Supreme Court ruled that Texas’ law was unconstitutional since it promoted discrimination and excluded blacks and other minorities from voting in the primary. Political parties were therefore not allowed to set their own rules with respect to elections.

First African American to become Solicitor General of the United States

As a result of his stellar performances and arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, Marshall’s status among the African American communities and the U.S. in general was very high. His meteoric rise caught the attention of President of John F. Kennedy and in 1961, Marshall was nominated by JFK to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. His nomination was easily approved by the Senate.

After about four years of service in the court, Marshall made history by becoming the first African American to be appointed Solicitor General of the United States. His appointment came from President Lyndon B. Johnson. During his time as solicitor General, he clinched victory in 14 of the 19 cases presented before the Supreme Court.


He was the first African American Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Marshall’s meteoric rise did not end as a Solicitor General. In 1967, he etched his name in the annals of history as he became the first African American to serve on the bench of the US Supreme Court. Marshall replaced Justice Tom C. Clark. Owing to the goodwill he had across the political divide, his nomination was confirmed by the Senate in a 69 to 11 vote on August 30, 1967. He thus became the 96th person to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

His 24-year stay in the Supreme Court saw him offer immeasurable support to the protection of minorities in terms of individual rights, civil rights and rights for accused criminals. Thurgood Marshall was also a vocal supporter of women’s rights and their rights to abortion. The renowned justice also voiced his opposition towards the death penalty, regarding it as very unconstitutional in all cases.

Thurgood Marshall won about 90% of the cases he presented before the U.S. Supreme Court

Marshall famously won 29 out of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court. Examples of the famous cases he argued and won before the Supreme Court of the United States include, Shelly v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948); Sweatt v. Painter U.S. 637 (1950) and; McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950).

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