October 11, 1991 – Anita Hill’s Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee About Clarence Thomas

In 1991, Thurgood Marshall, named to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson, and the first African-American to be appointed to the Court, decided to retire. Republican President George Bush saw Justice Marshall’s retirement as an opportunity to appoint a more conservative judge to the Supreme Court. He selected Clarence Thomas, a forty-three year old conservative African-American from Pinpoint, Georgia. Although black, Thomas was sufficiently conservative to insure a more right-leaning make-up to the Court.

The nomination of Clarence Thomas was instantly controversial. Many African-American groups, Civil Rights organizations, and groups supporting women’s rights opposed the Thomas nomination, fearing Thomas’s conservativism would lead to a reversal of the gains blacks had seen during Marshall’s tenure. Even the legal community voiced apprehension about Thomas’s clear lack of judicial experience.

Then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, Sept. 10, 1991. PHOTO: J. DAVID AKE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, Sept. 10, 1991.
PHOTO: J. DAVID AKE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Nevertheless, the Thomas nomination proceeded to the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings. The hearings took a dramatic turn when Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, came forward with accusations that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Hill had worked for Thomas years earlier when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For three days, millions of Americans watched the hearings that were broadcasted on live TV.

University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in 1991. AP

University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in 1991. AP

Thomas denied the allegations, calling the hearings “a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks.” It became a he-said-she-said issue, and in the end, the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Clarence Thomas as associate justice of the Supreme Court.

But Anita Hill’s testimony is considered to be one of the “Top 100 American speeches of the 20th century.” She said in part:

It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration that I am able to talk of these unpleasant matters to anyone except my closest friends. As I’ve said before these last few days have been very trying and very hard for me, and it hasn’t just been the last few days this week. It has actually been over a month now that I have been under the strain of this issue.

Telling the world is the most difficult experience of my life, but it is very close to having to live through the experience that occasion this meeting. I may have used poor judgment early on in my relationship with this issue. I was aware, however, that telling at any point in my career could adversely affect my future career. And I did not want early on to burn all the bridges to the EEOC.

As I said, I may have used poor judgment. Perhaps I should have taken angry or even militant steps, both when I was in the agency, or after I left it. But I must confess to the world that the course that I took seemed the better as well as the easier approach.

I declined any comment to newspapers, but later when Senate staff asked me about these matters I felt I had a duty to report. I have no personal vendetta against Clarence Thomas. I seek only to provide the committee with information which it may regard as relevant.

It would have been more comfortable to remain silent. It took no initiative to inform anyone — I took no initiative to inform anyone. But when I was asked by a representative of this committee to report my experience, I felt that I had to tell the truth. I could not keep silent.”

You can read the full text of her remarks here.

As The Huffington Post reports:

Hill’s impact was tangible. Her testimony set off a greater national understanding of what sexual harassment looks like in the workplace, pushing employers to institute trainings on the subject. In 1991, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC, where Hill had worked under Thomas) reported 3,349 charges filed alleging sexual harassment. In 1992, that number shot up to 5,607.”

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September 24, 1755 – Birth of John Marshall, Fourth Chief Justice of U.S. Supreme Court

John Marshall was born in a rural community on the Virginia frontier, in what is now Fauquier County, on September 24, 1755.

His parents decided John was to be a lawyer, and John’s father bought him a copy of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England for John to read and study. After serving in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, Marshall read law under the famous Chancellor of the College of William and Mary, George Wythe; was elected to Phi Beta Kappa; and was admitted to the Bar in 1780. He was in private practice in Fauquier County before entering politics.

In 1788, Marshall was selected as a delegate to the Virginia convention responsible for ratifying or rejecting the United States Constitution, which had been proposed by the Philadelphia Convention a year earlier. Together with his fellow Virginians James Madison and Edmund Randolph, Marshall led the fight for ratification. He was especially active in defense of Article III, which provides for the Federal judiciary. Marshall identified with the new Federalist Party (which supported a strong national government and commercial interests), and opposed Jefferson’s Republican Party (which advocated states’ rights and idealized the yeoman farmer and the French Revolution).

John Marshall painting from 1797

In 1798, Marshall declined a Supreme Court appointment by President John Adams, recommending Bushrod Washington, who would later become one of Marshall’s staunchest allies on the Court. Instead, Adams named Marshall as Secretary of State.

Adams and the Federalists were defeated in the presidential election of 1800, but the President and the lame duck Congress passed what came to be known as the Midnight Judges Act, which made sweeping changes to the federal judiciary, including a reduction in the number of Justices from six to five (upon the next vacancy in the court) so as to deny Jefferson an appointment until two vacancies occurred. In addition, since the incumbent Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth was in poor health, Adams nominated Marshall. Marshall was confirmed by the Senate on January 27, 1801, and received his commission on January 31, 1801. President John Adams offered this appraisal of Marshall’s impact: “My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life.”

Marshall served as Chief Justice during the administrations of six Presidents: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He helped to establish the Supreme Court as the final authority on the meaning of the Constitution in cases and controversies that must be decided by the federal courts. According to the Oyez Project, Marshall’s impact on constitutional law is without peer, and his imprint on the Court’s jurisprudence remains indelible.

In the excellent book John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Saved The Union by Harlow Giles Unger, Unger takes the interesting approach of illuminating the contributions of John Marshall to the protection and preservation of the Constitution by describing the many ways in which Thomas Jefferson sought to subvert it. This book will educate readers about the actual operations of the early republic, rather than the usual “patriotic” myths fed to students of history. Although revered as a “Founding Father,” Jefferson was in truth often interested more in advancing his own ideas and ambition than in honoring the Constitution.

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Marshall’s legacy as the 4th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was the assurance of “the integrity and eminence of the Constitution and the federal government.” Marshall, who was the longest serving Chief Justice in American history, signed over 1,180 decisions, writing 549 of them. As Unger shows:

In the course of his Supreme Court leadership Marshall stood at the center of the most riveting – and most important – courtroom dramas in the nation’s formative years. Case by case he defined, asserted, and when necessary, invented the authority he and the Court needed to render justice, stabilize the federal government, and preserve the Union and its Constitution.”

Because of Marshall’s efforts, the judiciary became an equal branch of the federal government. But it was not a predetermined outcome. When Jefferson didn’t get his way, he used every means at his disposal to try to vitiate the judiciary. To his chagrin, however, even when he appointed his own men to the bench, they became so impressed with Marshall’s erudition, devotion to the law, and integrity, that one by one, they became Marshall men instead of Jefferson men.

John marshall painting 1828

To this day, the decisions written or influenced by Marshall continue to shape the American polity. From his opinion in Marbury v. Madison, in which he established the independence of the federal judiciary, to his insistence in U.S. v. Burr that no one, not even the president, is above the law, Marshall made a lasting and positive imprint on the character of the country. And while Jefferson continued to insist, even when retired, that the federal and state governments represented two independent and equal sovereigns, Marshall, in McCulloch v. Maryland, set forth the precedent that state action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the Federal government. The United States would be a radically different place had it not been for “the great,the good, the wise” John Marshall, as he was described by another famous and well-respected Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Story.

Daguerreotype of Supreme Court justice Joseph Story, 1844

Discussion: One reason I like Unger very much as a historian is that he has always been able to avoid portraying the Founding Fathers in sepia tones with golden halos. He is not loathe to point out, for example, that Jefferson was a vicious man who operated sub rosa through lackeys to destroy the careers and lives of anyone and everyone who disagreed with him. He is not reluctant to provide evidence for how much of the Declaration of Independence was lifted by Jefferson from other writings, such as those of John Locke, or how pusillanimously Jefferson behaved when the fighting broke out in the American Revolution. He also takes Jefferson to task for his treasonous acts against President John Adams when Jefferson himself was serving as Vice President. (This includes the concealment of evidence by Jefferson that would exonerate Adams from charges of impeachment, a movement for which Jefferson was leading the chorus.) And he doesn’t hesitate to speak of Jefferson’s bribes to members of the press to calumniate his opponents; his threats to start a Civil War if he were not elected in 1800; his blatant disdain of the Constitution when it got in the way of what he wanted to do; and his attempts to emasculate the judiciary so that it could not rule against any of his decisions.

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale

Jefferson largely escapes such a close look at his behavior because of the need for the American narrative to show him as a great man, who joined other great men to create a great nation. Even the recent DNA evidence of Jefferson’s long-time affair with Sally Hemings has been downplayed, and those who acknowledge it are quick to point out Jefferson’s long-standing relationship with her, as if his alleged monogamy would make up for his taking up with a fifteen-year old girl when he was forty-six, a girl who was in his care as a slave, unable not to do his bidding. The entire time she was his mistress, she continued to serve as his slave, in addition to being pregnant almost continuously when he was in town. She was not even freed by his will when he died. But collective memory serves to establish moral, political, and social lessons, and to help form an understanding of who we are as a people. Truth can often fall by the wayside.

Unger, however, has a respect for facts.

He also has a keen eye for those early figures in our history who displayed more character, more nuance, more courage, and more loyalty to the aims of the young country. One of those was John Marshall. This well-written story will keep your attention from beginning to end. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5

Published by Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 2014

John Marshall by Henry Inman, 1832

September 22, 1915 – Birthdate of Civil Rights Attorney Charles Lund Black, Jr.

Charles Lund Black, Jr. was born on Sept. 22, 1915, in racist Austin, Texas, one of three children of a prominent lawyer. In 1931, as a 16-year-old freshman studying Greek classics at the University of Texas at Austin, he happened to hear Louis Armstrong play. He later wrote in the Yale Law Journal:

He was the first genius I had ever seen. … It is impossible to overstate the significance of a sixteen-year-old southern boy’s seeing genius, for the first time, in a black. We literally never saw a black then in any but a servant’s capacity. It was just then that I started toward the Brown case where I belonged.”

Armstrong himself, according to jazz critic Nat Hentoff, wrote in a September, 1941 letter:

I’d like to recall one of my most inspiring moments. I was playing a concert date in a Miami auditorium. I walked on stage and there I saw something I’d never seen. I saw thousands of people, colored and white, on the main floor. Not segregated in one row of whites and another row of Negroes. Just all together – naturally. I thought I was in the wrong state. When you see things like that, you know you’re going forward.”

Louis Armstrong in 1934

Louis Armstrong in 1934

In 1954, Black, then a white professor of constitutional law, helped Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. to write the legal brief for Linda Brown, a 10-year-old student in Topeka, Kansas, whose historic case, Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483), decided May 17, 1954, became the Supreme Court’s definitive judgment on segregation in American education.

Professor Charles Black

Professor Charles Black

Professor Black taught generations of law students, first at Columbia from 1947 to 1956, then at Yale for 30 years, and then at Columbia from 1986 until his health began to fail prior to his death in 2001. Black was the first Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale, and in 1975 he became the Sterling Professor of Law, the highest academic rank at Yale. He also wrote more than 20 books and many articles on constitutional law, admiralty law, capital punishment, the role of the judiciary and other legal subjects, including Impeachment: A Handbook, that was widely praised in 1974, when President Richard M. Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal, and also when reissued during the 1999 proceedings against President Bill Clinton. His last book, A New Birth of Freedom (1997), re-examined the Declaration of Independence and the Ninth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution as a basis for unwritten human rights.

[Sources for this post came from Columbia University, The New York Times (5/08/01), and The Wall Street Journal (1/15/09).] You can read more about Black’s recollections of Louis Armstrong here. He said in this article:

All men, to be sure, are kin, but Southern whites and Negroes are bound in a special bond. In a peculiar way, they are the same kind of people. They are happy alike, they are poor alike. Their strife is fratricidal, born of ignorance. And the tragedy itself has, of course, deepened the kinship; indeed, it created it.

My dream is simply that sight will one day clear and that each of the participants will recognize the other.”

Review of “The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage” by Selina Alko

Case-for-Loving-by-Selina-Alko-on-BookDragon-670x800

As the Author explains in an Afterword to this book, she is white and her husband, fellow illustrator Sean Qualls, is African-American. They fell in love and were married in 2003. Alko writes:

“I must admit, it’s difficult to imagine that just decades ago couples just like us not only faced discrimination, but were told by their governments that their love was unlawful.”

But it was only in 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court declared that anti-mixed marriage statutes were unconstitutional, in the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia. Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the Court, declared that statutes preventing marriage solely on the basis of racial classification violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

At the time of this decision, Virginia was one of sixteen states prohibiting and punishing marriages on the basis of racial classification. According to one Virginia statute, a “white person” was absolutely prohibited from marrying anyone other than another “white person.” The license-issuing official had to be satisfied that applicants’ statements as to their race were correct, and certificates of “racial composition” had to be kept by both state and local registrars.

CaseForLoving_1

This book tells the story of two Virginia residents, Mildred Jeter, part African-American and part Cherokee, and Richard Loving, a fair-skinned white boy. The two fell in love, but had to travel to Washington, D.C. to get married legally, which they did in 1958. Shortly thereafter, they returned to Virginia and took up residence.

CaseLoving3

They’d been married just a few weeks when, in the middle of the night in July, 1958, the county sheriff and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip that the Lovings were in violation of the law, stormed into the couple’s bedroom. They informed the Lovings that their marriage license was no good in Virginia, and hauled Richard and the pregnant Mildred off to jail.

The couple eventually pleaded guilty to violating the Virginia law, which recognized citizens as “pure white” only if they could claim white lineage all the way back to 1684. The presiding judge ruled:

“Almighty God created the races white, white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.” And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The Lovings were convicted and sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave Virginia. They moved to D.C., but missed their friends and family and the Virginia countryside. In 1964, frustrated by their inability to travel together to visit their families in Virginia, Mildred Loving wrote in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred the matter to the American Civil Liberties Union.

CaseLoving2

The ACLU filed a motion on the Lovings’ behalf to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924,” violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings also filed a class action in federal court to have the Virginia statutory scheme declared unconstitutional. This began a series of procedures and appeals that ultimately reached the Supreme Court.

Mildred and Richard Loving with their three children on the front porch of their Virginia home in the late 1960’s.

Mildred and Richard Loving with their three children on the front porch of their Virginia home in the late 1960’s.

Mildred and Richard Loving went on to have three children: Donald, Peggy and Sidney Loving. In the book, the authors aver that the Loving family, back in Virginia, lived “happily (and legally!) ever after.” But the truth is more tragic. Richard Loving died at age 41 in 1975, when a drunken driver struck their car. Mildred Loving lost her right eye in the same accident.

Mildred Loving died of pneumonia in 2008, in Milford, Virginia, at age 68. Her daughter Peggy Fortune said “I want [people] to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble — and believ[ing] in love.”

Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967

Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967

This book is a testament to that love, and also to the love between the Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. For the art work, they collaborated, using paint and collage in bold and beautiful colors. This is their first book together, but you can see in this book the influence of their previous (separate) books about mixed race relationships, such as Who Will I Be, Lord? by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Sean Qualls, Illustrator, and I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother by Selina Alko (both author and illustrator).

Evaluation: This story is told truthfully, but with the focus on the positive aspects of love, family, and the conviction that “Brand-new ideas, like equal rights for people of all colors, were replacing old, fearful ways of thinking.” One can only hope that faith continues to be justified.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2015

July 11, 1941 – Robert Jackson Sworn in as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Robert Jackson, born in 1892, served as United States Solicitor General (1938-1940), United States Attorney General (1940–1941) and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1941–1954). He is the only person in United States history to have held all three of those offices. He was also the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. In addition, he is the last Supreme Court justice appointed who did not graduate from any law school.

Robert H. Jackson

Robert H. Jackson

Jackson began his career in the law at age 18, when he went to work as an apprentice in a Jamestown, New York two-attorney law office with his uncle who was a lawyer. Jackson did attend Albany Law School, in Albany, New York during 1911–12. Although Jackson completed the second year of the school’s two-year program, he was denied a law degree because he was under age twenty-one.

During the summer of 1912, Jackson returned to Jamestown, apprenticing again for the next year. He passed the New York bar examination in 1913 and joined a law practice in Jamestown, New York, later moving with his wife to Buffalo.

Jackson took a number of leadership roles in the bar, and in 1933 was elected chairman of the American Bar Association’s Conference of Bar Association Delegates (a predecessor to today’s ABA House of Delegates).

In 1934, he was appointed by Franklin Roosevelt to be general counsel for the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the Treasury Department and served as the government’s principal tax attorney. In 1936, Jackson became assistant Attorney General of the Tax Division in the Department of Justice and, less than two months later, he assumed the position of Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division. In this position, he argued 10 cases before the Supreme Court.

Robert H. Jackson

Robert H. Jackson

In March, 1938, Jackson was confirmed by the Senate as the 24th Solicitor General of the United States. During his tenure as Solicitor General, Jackson argued 27 cases before the Court and lost 4.

Justice Louis Brandeis reportedly observed that Jackson was so good at the position he should serve as Solicitor General for life. (James M. Marsh, “Robert H. Jackson,” in THE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES: ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHIES, 1789-1993, ed. Clare Cushman (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1993), at 408.)

In January 1940, Robert Jackson was appointed to be the Attorney General. He remained in that position until July 1941, when he was elevated to the Supreme Court on this day in history. In all, Justice Jackson served as a government attorney in five different capacities within the Department of Justice and argued before the Supreme Court on 37 separate occasions prior to joining the Court. (“From Solicitor General to Supreme Court Nominee: Responsibilities, History, and the Nomination of Elena Kagan” by Susan Navarro Smelcer & Kenneth R. Thomas, CRS, June 23, 2010)

During Jackson’s tenure on the Court, President Harry Truman asked him to serve as the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremburg Trials.

1946 photo of Chief U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson seen during summation statements at the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany.   (AP Photo)

1946 photo of Chief U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson seen during summation statements at the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany. (AP Photo)

Justice Jackson was known for a number of important opinions, including his concurring opinion in 1952’s Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (343 U.S. 579, 1952) (forbidding President Harry Truman’s seizure of steel mills during the Korean War to avert a strike), in which Jackson formulated a three-tier test for evaluating claims of presidential power. This remains one of the most widely cited opinions in Supreme Court history.

Jackson is also often quoted for his statement about the Supreme Court in Brown v. Allen (344 U.S. 443, 1953) that “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.”

After serving over 13 years on the Court, Justice Jackson died suddenly of a heart attack on October 9, 1954.

June 28, 1978 – The U.S. Supreme Court Decides Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke

On this day in history, the U.S. Supreme Court in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 upheld affirmative action, allowing race to be one of several factors in college admission policy. However, the court found that specific quotas, such as the 16 out of 100 seats set aside for minority students by the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, were impermissible.

Allan Bakke, a white applicant, was twice denied admission to the medical school even though his test scores were “significantly higher” than those of some minority applicants recently admitted.

Bakke first sued the University of California in a state court, alleging that the medical school’s admission policy violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The California Supreme Court agreed, finding that the quota system explicitly discriminated against racial groups and holding that “no applicant may be rejected because of his race, in favor of another who is less qualified, as measured by standards applied without regard to race.” The medical school, ordered to shut down its quota system, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reviewed the case in 1978.

In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Lewis Franklin Powell, the Court ruled that a state may constitutionally consider race as a factor in its university admissions to promote educational diversity, but only if considered alongside other factors and on a case-by-case basis.

Portrait of Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.

Portrait of Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.

California’s use of racial quotas in this case, however, did not meet those requirements because of the fact that it reserved 16 out of 100 spots solely for consideration of race. The Court found that the fact that blacks have historically had been discriminated against more than whites was irrelevant to this case, because racial quota systems, whether applied against whites or blacks, are always “odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.” Indeed, because the school’s quota was designed to redress past discrimination against racial minorities, the Court stated, it was intended to prefer “one group for no other reason other than race or ethnic origin.” Thus, the Court ruled that the school’s quota system “must be rejected … as racially invalid” under the Equal Protection Clause.

Justice Thurgood Marshall felt that affirmative action was important and more than justified. In a separate opinion, he wrote:

…today’s judgment ignores the fact that, for several hundred years, Negroes have been discriminated against not as individuals, but rather solely because of the color of their skins. It is unnecessary in 20th-century America to have individual Negroes demonstrate that they have been victims of racial discrimination; the racism of our society has been so pervasive that none, regardless of wealth or position, has managed to escape its impact. The experience of Negroes in America has been different in kind, not just in degree, from that of other ethnic groups. It is not merely the history of slavery alone, but also that a whole people were marked as inferior by the law. And that mark has endured. The dream of America as the great melting pot has not been realized for the Negro; because of his skin color, he never even made it into the pot. [my emphasis]”

He further opined:

In light of the sorry history of discrimination and its devastating impact on the lives of Negroes, bringing the Negro into the mainstream of American life should be a state interest of the highest order. To fail to do so is to ensure that America will forever remain a divided society.

It is because of a legacy of unequal treatment that we now must permit the institutions of this society to give consideration to race in making decisions about who will hold the positions of influence, affluence, and prestige in America. For far too long, the doors to those positions have been shut to Negroes. If we are ever to become a fully integrated society, one in which the color of a person’s skin will not determine the opportunities available to him or her, we must be willing to take steps to open those doors. I do not believe that anyone can truly look into America’s past and still find that a remedy for the effects of that past is impermissible.”

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

June 5, 1762 – Birth of Bushrod Washington, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Bushrod Washington, born on this day in history, was the son of John Augustine Washington, who was George Washington’s brother.

Bushrod Washington graduated from the College of William & Mary in 1778 and along with John Marshall studied law under George Wythe. (Wythe also taught and was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay and other men who became American leaders.)

Bushrod Washington, engraving, 1891,  Library of Congress

Bushrod Washington, engraving, 1891,
Library of Congress

Washington practiced law from 1784 to 1798, also serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. On September 29, 1798, President John Adams appointed Washington to the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court vacated by James Wilson after John Marshall had declined the appointment. Washington was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 20, 1798, and became an associate justice on February 4, 1799, at the age of 36, continuing until his death in 1829.

Serving for thirty-one years, the Federalist Washington tended to support the opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall and Justice Joseph Story. Washington favored increasing the powers of the federal government, protecting private property rights and encouraging economic development. He voted so consistently with the great Chief Justice that they were considered conjoined “as a single judge.” He only voted against Marshall on three occasions. 

Bushrod Washington

Bushrod Washington


 
As George Washington’s favorite nephew, Bushrod inherited Mount Vernon after Martha Washington’s death, and became executor of his uncle’s estate, including President Washington’s public and private papers. 

When Bushrod and his wife moved to Mount Vernon, he brought his slaves, but even so was unable to support the upkeep of the plantation’s mansion on the proceeds from the property and his Supreme Court salary. He sold many of his slaves to gain working capital to support the main house and property. (Somewhat in keeping with the tendency of early Americans to say one thing and do another, Washington was among the founders of the American Colonization Society (ACS), which promoted repatriation to Africa of blacks.)

Bushrod died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1829, while riding circuit. His wife died two days later while transporting his body for burial. They were both interred at Mount Vernon.