Monday, May 4, 2009

The Souter Resignation: Replacing Thurgood Marshall

The Souter Resignation: Replacing Thurgood Marshall
by Ron Powell
Justice Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993),

graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore in 1926 and from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1930. Afterward, Marshall wanted to apply to his hometown law school, the University of Maryland School of Law, but the dean told him that he would not be accepted due to the school's segregation policy. Later, as a civil rights litigator, he successfully sued the school for this policy in the case of Murray v. Pearson. As he could not attend the University of Maryland, Marshall sought admission and was accepted at Howard University. He was influenced by its new dean, Charles Hamilton Houston, who instilled in his students the desire to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans. Marshall was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Black Greek-letter fraternity, established by African American students in 1906.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961. A group of Democratic Party Senators led by Mississippi's James Eastland held up his confirmation, so he served for the first several months under a recess appointment. Marshall remained on that court until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him Solicitor General.

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American elevated to U.S. Supreme Court. He sreved for 24 years until he retired in 1991.

No one has been a more ardent supporter of President Obama than I. However, I do believe that he has developed a blind spot when it comes to the 'average' or 'regular person'. There are no "middle class" people appointed to serve on The Task Force on the Middle Class, or anywhere else in his administration. All of his Cabinet appointments have been Ivy League graduates, or graduates of other "elite" academic institutions. I believe that he has left himself open to criticism and charges of being elitist.

Using the criteria being applied by Obama's search and vetting teams, would Thurgood Marshall get an appointment to the Obama cabinet, or be an Obama choice for the Supreme Court? Would career achievement alone be sufficient to merit more than a superficial or perfunctory designation and/or assignment?

Clearly, President Obama stands on the shoulders of Thurgood Marshall, and others like him, who's legacy made his candidacy and election possible. I would like to think that the candidate who ran on "Change we can believe in", would seek to avoid old style patronage and cronyism which can cause tunnel vision and thus create the blind spot of which I speak. The danger in having a blind spot is that you can get blind-sided as a consequence.

The resignation of Justice Souter gives President Obama an opportunity to widen his field of vision regarding his key appointments. He can show that he does indeed have a complete grasp of his place in the history of African-American progress in American political and social life. He can lay a marker to ensure that the path he followed does not close behind him. He can fill the seat soon to be vacated by Justice Souter by replacing Thurgood Marshall.

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