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Marshall, 1st Black justice, faced down Senate critics

thurgood marshall
Posted at 4:09 PM, Mar 19, 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court is likely to face questioning at her Senate hearing that would have been familiar to Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man who served on the high court.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination has come before the Senate during what Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called a national crime wave.

“Amid all this, the soft-on-crime brigade is squarely in Judge Jackson’s corner,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Other Republican senators and some in the conservative media have focused on Jackson’s work as a federal public defender, which included representation of several men held without charges at Guantanamo Bay naval base. Jackson’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee begins Monday.

Fifty-five years ago, a band of Southern senators, almost all Democrats, used riots in the nation’s cities and Americans’ fears about crime to try to derail Marshall’s nomination.

“I know there is a crisis in this country, a crime crisis. And I know the philosophy of the Supreme Court one way or the other on these vital issues is going to be of untold consequences and has already been in my judgment of serious consequences to the crime situation,” Sen. John McClellan, D-Ark., said during Marshall’s hearing before the committee.

The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren, had expanded the rights of people accused of crimes, in a series of decisions that included the famed Miranda case that limited police questioning of suspects without a lawyer present.

But concerns about crime were inextricably linked to the issue of race, author Wil Haygood wrote in “Showdown,” his account of Marshall’s confirmation.

The only significant opposition to Marshall came from McClellan and the other ardent segregationists on the committee, Sens. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., James Eastland, D-Miss. and Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. They were determined to make life difficult for Marshall, the storied civil rights lawyer. Marshall had argued the Brown v. Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court outlawed official segregation.

The previous three choices of Democratic presidents had been confirmed within a month of their nominations by voice votes in a Senate controlled by Democrats.

The party still held the reins in the Senate in 1967 when President Lyndon Johnson maneuvered to create a Supreme Court opening and then sought to fill it with a groundbreaking choice.

“I know there is a crisis in this country, a crime crisis. And I know the philosophy of the Supreme Court one way or the other on these vital issues is going to be of untold consequences, and has already been in my judgment of serious consequences to the crime situation,” Sen. John McClellan, D-Ark., said during Marshall’s hearing before the committee.

The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren, had expanded the rights of people accused of crimes, in a series of decisions that included the famed Miranda case that limited police questioning of suspects without a lawyer present.

But concerns about crime were inextricably linked to the issue of race, author Wil Haygood wrote in “Showdown,” his account of Marshall’s confirmation.

The only significant opposition to Marshall came from McClellan and the other ardent segregationists on the committee, Sens. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., James Eastland, D-Miss. and Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. They were determined to make life difficult for Marshall, the storied civil rights lawyer. Marshall had argued the Brown v. Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court outlawed official segregation.

The previous three choices of Democratic presidents had been confirmed within a month of their nominations by voice votes in a Senate controlled by Democrats.

The party still held the reins in the Senate in 1967 when President Lyndon Johnson maneuvered to create a Supreme Court opening and then sought to fill it with a groundbreaking choice.