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Supreme Court justice and civil rights advocate

Marshall on his fellow justices

Marshall’s 24 years on the high court allowed him to serve on the liberal Warren Courts as well as the increasingly conservative Burger and Rhenquist courts:

A:You can’t name one member of this Court who knows anything about Negroes before he came to this Court. Name me one. Sure, they went to school with one Negro in the class. Name me one who lives in a neighborhood with Negroes. They’ve got to get over that problem and the only way they can do it is the person himself.

Q: Do you ever feel like these guys (colleagues on the court) have had a better education?
A: No, I don’t see anybody, I don’t think so. Do they have SJDs? I don’t think anybody here, no. But they’re from better law schools. They’re from Harvard, I’m from Howard. It didn’t compare with Harvard.

Q: Do you wish you had a better education to compete with these guys?

A: Oh no, no. I know as many cases as they do….I would say that there are two or three guys on this Court that have a better memory of cases than I do. Two that I’ve mentioned is Brennan and Rhenquist. On boy they remember the details of a case. Sometimes it shocks you.


Q: What did you think about Warren Burger?
A: I don’t know… he’s still a mystery. I can tell you this: that there are enough votes here to get rid of the Miranda case six to eight years ago. And he wouldn’t let it

Q: Why?
A: I don’t know. He just hung it up. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not putting him way down in the boots, I don’t know

I know what, he’s as near as near the top as you can get it. Oh they might be some one, or two, but there won’t be many. There won’t be many.

Q: Did you ever want to be the chief justice?
A: Hell no. Yeah, if I had the president on my side.

Q: But if Reagan had just appointed you, you would have said no.
A: I wouldn’t do the job of dogcatcher for Ronald Reagan.


Q: What did you think of Earl Warren going into [the Brown] case?
A: Well, when Earl Warren was appointed by the president, I was given the job of finding out what the hell he was all about. And I went out to California and I checked both sides. I checked the conservatives and the liberals and all of them said the same thing: that the man was simply great. Great. And the two judges on the state Supreme Court, well they both said if he doesn’t do right, you call us up and we’ll come and kick his ass.

Q: So you came into the case thinking, “Well I got a chance”?
A: You damn right. You damn right. That was the first time we thought we had 5 to 4.

Q: Because you figured you would have lost the case if [former Chief Justice] Vinson was still in?
A: Yeah, that Vincent was a mean man.

Q: Did you argue any cases before him?
A: Of course I did. I had one was a confession case and the Chief Justice said to me, he said, “Well assuming you got two confessions in the case and one was extorted by force and violence and clearly no good and the other one was clearly good, would the second one be good?”

And I said, “Well

“Don’t qualify your answer. Yes or no?”

I said, “Yes.”

“Well, to reverse it, would the first one be good?”

I said again

“Don’t qualify your answer. Yes or no?”

And I said, “Yes.”

I said, “Well, now can I qualify my answer?” And he said, “No.” You can’t be no nastier than that.

Q: That’s pretty rough.
A: When he came out to the lawyer’s lounge out there, all the press guys were there. “You had your chance then. Why didn’t you tell him off?”

Q: They wanted you to do it?
A: Yeah.

No, he was a mean man.

Q: In 1937 Hugo Black was appointed to the Supreme Court. Were you aware of those things back then?
A: I was. I remember Hugo Black as a senator. I remembered on one occasion there was the HarrisonBlackFletcher bill which was a bill to get federal funds for public education. The southerners so worded it that we knew that Negroes weren’t going to get that money. So Charlie Houston and I said, let’s go over and talk to Sen. Black and Walter White.

So Charlie and I went over there and talked to him and he said, you don’t know how right you are. And he had his brother there, Hollis, who was his aide and he said, you know, we’ve got to get around this so I’ll propose an amendment. Is that what you want? And we said, yessir. And he said you don’t have to worry. And we said you know we’ve got one drafted here. So we showed it to him and he said, no, this won’t do. The southerners won’t buy this. Hollis you go draft one that the southerners will buy.

Now I remember that the man did that, why should we fight him…But Hugo’s a good man. I don’t know where he got because he was brought up in the Klan. You had to have a Klan sign in your window in Alabama. Any place in Alabama. He’s from Alabama.