He received his law degree from Howard University in 1933.
After private practice in Baltimore, Marshall joined (1936) the legal staff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. As its chief counsel (1938–61), he argued more than 30 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, successfully challenging racial segregation, most notably in higher education. His presentation of the argument against the doctrine of “separate but equal” achieved its greatest impact with the landmark decision handed down in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). His appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1961 was opposed by some Southern senators and was not confirmed until 1962. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court two years later; he was the first black to sit on the high court, where he consistently supported the position taken by those challenging discrimination based on race or sex, opposed the death penalty, and supported the rights of criminal defendants. His support for affirmative action led to his strong dissent in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). As appointments by Presidents Nixon and Reagan changed the outlook of the Court, Marshall found his opinions increasingly in the minority. After his retirement he was outspoken in his criticism of the court.
See study by R. W. Bland (1973).
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