Harrisburg Legal Methods Faculty Hosted CLE examining writings of Thurgood Marshall
Anna P. Hemingway - Published: May 4, 2010
On April 14, to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s oral argument in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education (Brown II), four Professors of Legal Methods hosted a two-hour CLE exploring the writings of Thurgood Marshall. The CLE examined Marshall’s writings as a practitioner, a scholar, and a jurist.

Professor Anna Hemingway, the Director of Legal Methods in Harrisburg, started the CLE program by discussing a memo Marshall wrote from Texas in 1941 while he was searching for the right plaintiff to bring a challenge to that state’s all-white primary elections. Marshall’s zealous search resulted in Smith v. Allwright, the U.S. Supreme Court case declaring all-white primaries unconstitutional. She went on to examine three letters he wrote during the trial in Lyons v. Oklahoma, where an African-American was beaten until he confessed to a murder he did not commit. The memo and the letters revealed Marshall to be an amazing courtroom strategist.

Professor Starla Williams took an in-depth look at the appellate brief Marshall filed in Brown v. Board of Education II. In Brown II, Marshall successfully convinced the Supreme Court to desegregate public schools “with all deliberate speed.” He used classic legal writing techniques, such as leading with his strongest argument, and using favorable empirical evidence, to persuade the Court. These writings showcased Marshall to be a brilliant persuasive practitioner.

Professor Jennifer Lear went on to consider Marshall’s work as a scholar and examined his 1987 Harvard Law Review article “Commentary: Reflections on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution.” In this article, Marshall was highly critical of the overly celebratory tone of the U.S. Constitution—a document he believed was flawed from the start because of its commitment to preserve slavery. This article helped establish Marshall as a solicitous scholar and gave the CLE participants the opportunity to examine Marshall’s legacy as a moral activist.

Finally, Professor Ann Fruth reviewed Marshall’s final opinion as a Supreme Court justice—the dissent penned in Payne v. Tennessee. Payne v. Tennessee overruled two previous Supreme Court opinions and held that witness-impact statements were admissible in the sentencing phase of death penalty cases. In a scathing dissent, Marshall criticized the Court’s disregard for stare decisis. His dissent solidified his commitment to fairness and equality for all in the courts, and confirmed him to be a most just jurist.