This Day in the Law
June 13

President Johnson Nominates Thurgood Marshall as First Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1967)

On June 13, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall as the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice. President Johnson made this nomination based on Thurgood Marshall’s character, extensive legal background, and because he thought the timing was right.

Thurgood Marshall began his legal career as one of a handful of black Southern lawyers – even after being refused admission to Maryland law school because of his race. Marshall quickly excelled in the legal profession and joined the NAACP. In 1940, Marshall advocated on behalf of the NAACP to end racial segregation and was eventually elected to the position of director and lead counsel for its Legal Defense and Education Fund.

In 1954, Marshall successfully argued the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka before the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared racial segregation in United States public schools unconstitutional. Marshall argued other pivotal cases including, Smith v. Allwright, which held that Southern states cannot exclude African-American voters from primary elections, and Shelley v. Kraemer, which held that state racial "restrictive covenants" in housing was unconstitutional.

In 1954, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit where he wrote over 150 decisions. In 1965, President Johnson appointed Judge Marshall to the office of U.S. Solicitor General where he argued and won nearly all of his cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the government.

Then, on this day, June 13, 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to the nation’s highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed Marshall’s appointment with a vote of 69-11 in August 1967. Marshall became the 96th person to hold the position of U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and the first African-American.

Marshall served twenty-three years on the Supreme Court before retiring in June 1991.