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Supreme Court justice and civil rights advocate

Marshall’s views on the Presidents

Marshall personally knew every president from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. Some he greatly admired, while others he held in contempt:

On Nixon

Q: And did you have anything to do with Nixon, Carter and Reagan?
A: The only thing I know about Nixon was when I was in Bethesda Naval Hospital. And for about 30 days it was touch and go. And a day or two before I left, the commandant of the hospital came in to me and said, “Mr. Justice, we’ve got a request for your stay, prognosis, everything. And I wouldn’t think of releasing it without your permission.” I said, well thank you for nothing. But I said, who wants it? And he said, “President Nixon.” I said, fine. Well, you can release it, but providing you put the following catch on the bottom of it. And I said, what’s that? Not yet. He did. He put it on there. He might have taken it off later on.


On Carter

Q: What about Carter?
A: Carter and I stayed away from each other. I don’t know. He ended up, he wanted me to resign.

Q: He said this publicly?
A: Not publicly. He sent people to me.

Q: To ask you to resign?
A: Yeah.

Q: And what did you send back?
A: My usual. The expression is one I love, you dare me, FUCK YOURSELF! [laughs].


On Kennedy and Johnson

A: And Kennedy did good, but Kennedy just didn’t have the time. He wasn’t there long enough, and Johnson wasn’t there long enough.

Q: You thought they used Vietnam as an excuse to get Johnson out.
A: That’s what Johnson thought.

Q: What do you think?
A: I think he’s in a better position to know than I and I’ve agreed with him on everything else just about. He was going too far on civil rights.

Q: And that’s what they were really concerned about?
A: Yessir. And still are.

Q: What do you think he would have done additionally?
A: I told him I wouldn’t tell. He told the whole story on condition that I wouldn’t. I said how about after you die? He said nope, I’ll come back and haunt you.

Q: You said at one point he told you that he wasn’t going to put you on the court.
A: Every time, he told me.

Q: And you were surprised when he did. But you two were very good friends.
A: Yes, but that don’t … What is it when he says beginning and end that you’re not going on the court. He would go out of his way every time to say it. So why shouldn’t I believe him.

Q: To get under your goat, to make you mad.
A: He didn’t do his friends in.

Q: Did you ever advise him on Vietnam?
A: We discussed it. [Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara was his adviser on Vietnam. Every day. Every day.

Q: Do you ever see McNamara now?
A: No, only on television.

Q: You must have some strong feelings about what he did to Johnson?
A: No, I think he was an honest guy. I think he was misled by the generals, and then he misled the president, but it was the generals that were doing it.


On Reagan

Q: And Reagan, looking back now on the effect he had on this country?
A: Well, Reagan, I think Reagan started the downhill slide which is proceeding as planned.

Q: In this court as well?
A: No, I did not say in this court. I’d say in the government as a whole. I did not say the court.

Q: But in regard to civil rights is what you’re stating.
A: Yeah. I think it’s on its way down.

Q: And the most damaging thing that he did was?
A: I don’t know. It’s just the whole aura of the whole thing. I mean it’s just, it’s just not the thing to do anymore. It just is not, you know, what, I don’t know. But you just get the feeling that it’s hopeless.