Another Law School Mulls Name Change Over Slaveholding Supreme Court Justice (1)

Another Law School Mulls Name Change Over Slaveholding Supreme Court Justice

(CSU) Students at Ohio’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law are urging administrators to change the school’s name to avoid honoring former United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, who wrote several of the court’s most influential early decisions while also owning and selling a large number of slaves.

A movement to rename the school, which is part of Cleveland State University, began after national protests over racism and injustice in the summer of 2020. It gathered traction this week after a member of the Cleveland City Council introduced a resolution urging that the name of the university be changed.

Students Against Marshall, a newly founded law student group, is pushing for a name change by May commencement. In a statement, the organization added, “We will not be complicit as yet another batch of our colleagues receives a certificate bearing the name of a horrific slave trader.”

The law school would be the second in a row to distance itself from the legendary jurist, who was responsible for the Supreme Court’s decisions in Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland, which established judicial review and federal government jurisdiction over states, respectively. From 1801 to 1835, Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States.

After nearly a year of debate among students and alumni, the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law withdrew Marshall from its name in May. Until 2019, when it united with the public institution and became the University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall Law School, it was known as The John Marshall Law School.

The recent Marshall backlash was sparked in part by a 2018 book by Paul Finkelman, the President of Gratz College in Philadelphia, who is a legal historian. Marshall owned more than 300 slaves during his lifetime, according to Finkelman’s research, and regularly sided with slaveholders in instances that came before him.

In August 2020, the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law established a committee to investigate a name change and held a series of town halls and panels to explore it. It sent out a poll in December, asking students, alumni, and teachers for their opinions.

The reactions have been divided, according to Law Dean Lee Fisher.

In an email, Fisher added, “The law school name process has emulated what we teach our law students—to listen and learn, and to suspend judgment until we have had an opportunity to examine what we have heard.”

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