Department of Justice Seal

Remarks* of Deputy Attorney General
Dedication of the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse
New York City, New York
April 14, 2003

   We are gathered to dedicate this courthouse to the memory of a remarkable American lawyer. Just as this building has withstood the trials of six decades, so too does the memory of Justice Thurgood Marshall.

   After the passage of 70 years, the legal world into which Thurgood Marshall emerged as a new lawyer in 1933 is unrecognizable in many important ways. Justice Marshall had been barred from the University of Maryland by racial discrimination. He lived and worked in a world and profession perverted by segregation.

   It is to his undying credit – and in large measure the reason that we pledge this courthouse to his memory today – that Thurgood Marshall dedicated his life to remaking our world in the image of equality and tolerance that the Constitution requires.

   Our praise today can merely echo the resounding effect of a lifetime of work that resulted in demonstrating how the Constitution could serve our nation's modern needs in a diverse society. Unlike many here today, I was not privileged to know Justice Marshall, so the quality of my reminiscence may necessarily be poorer than many others. But my admiration is rich for what he achieved, what he stood for as a lawyer, and the sacrifices that he made.

   Thurgood Marshall was one of the most impressive lawyers of the 20th Century – and not just in the famous Supreme Court cases, but in the hundreds of matters he handled all over the country for the NAACP.

   But Justice Marshall was more than just a brilliant advocate. I remember him for the passion he had for the profession, for his public service and his strong sense of how both could positively impact our great nation.

   In 1942, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson described the ideal lawyer as a lawyer who loved his or her profession and who had a sense of dedication to the administration of justice. To this ideal lawyer, the law was like a religion, and its practice was more than a means of support; it was a mission. This completely describes Justice Marshall and his career.

   Today, I and many others are concerned about the practice of law becoming simply another white-collar industry where the noneconomic aspects of the profession, that were once considered responsibilities, are ignored. We are also concerned about the seeming reluctance of many lawyers – especially younger lawyers – to enter public service. Not so with Justice Marshall.

   Shortly after he began his law practice in Baltimore, Justice Marshall's teacher and mentor Charles Houston cautioned him not to neglect the development of his own practice for the work he was doing for the NAACP on the side. Fortunately, for all of us today, Justice Marshall did not listen to this advice and told Houston in 1935: "Personally, I would not give up these cases here in Maryland for anything in the world, but at the same time there is no opportunity to get down to really hustling for business."

   Justice Marshall's career was never about how much money he could make as a lawyer. Instead, James Freedman, one of Justice Marshall's former law clerks when he served on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, has said that Justice Marshall's career was one of commitment to the public profession of the law.

   That Justice Marshall clearly understood how this commitment to the law could impact our nation is illustrated by a brief story that my friend William Coleman provided me.

   On their way in a taxi from the hotel to the Supreme Court building on the day Justice Marshall was to argue the Brown case, Bill Coleman said to Justice Marshall to relieve the tension, "You are going to have to be as good as Touissant L'Ouverture," (who defeated Napoleon's generals in Haiti). Justice Marshall replied, "You still don't get it. This issue is not one of Them against Us; it is an issue where, if we win, they will benefit as much, or even more, than we do ... we fight for both, and equal rights and liberties for all ...."

   With his obvious legal prowess, it is clear that Justice Marshall could have won himself a fortune in private practice. Instead, and to the betterment of our nation as a whole, Thurgood Marshall became the embodiment of the spirit of public service.

   For that service, I want to thank the members of the Marshall family who are here today. We look forward to Thurgood Marshall's name honoring this storied courthouse – and inspiring both bench and bar – for many years to come.

   Thank you.

*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.