Let’s stop honoring and venerating people that upheld racial inequalities.
It was my third day of law school at John Marshall in Chicago. The first case I was ever called on to discuss was Johnson v. M’Intosh. The case involved the sale of land from a Native American to a non-Native American. The court ultimately upheld the notion that sale of land by Native Americans is prohibited, because they don’t have “title” or ownership in the land. My immediate thought after class was, “why do we name institutions after racists?”
John Marshall upheld slavery and the slave trade.
Then it got worse. As I entered Constitutional Law II, which focused on individual rights, the racism by John Marshall mounted. John Marshall said slave was “evil”, but owned slaves himself. He was reluctant to support wide scale emancipation, for fear of a revolution by blacks. Instead he supported deporting freed slaves back to Africa.
John Marshall was a racist hypocrite.
Despite John Marshall’s personal attitude toward slavery being “evil”, he often used legal trickery and technicalities to reverse lower court decisions that ruled against slave trade or in favor of individual freedom. This simply tells us he wasn’t a man of principle, often saying one thing (i.e. slavery is bad), but doing another (ruling in favor of slavery).
So many institutions are named after John Marshall.
When I moved to Cleveland, I realized there is a local high school named John Marshall High School (with a mostly black student body), along with another law school named after him – Cleveland State University Marshall School of Law. There are many places and things named after John Marshall, but I’m starting close to home.
Why do we honor and venerate a racist like John Marshall?
Again, I ask, why do we honor and venerate racists who upheld slavery and wiped out the Native Americans? Because John Marshall brought us “Judicial Review”, a philosophical yet practice framework for analyzing the constitutional validity of a law. But I argue that some other Supreme Court judge, at some other time, would have given us an equally sound theory for reviewing the Constitutional validity of a piece of legislation. Among legal circles, John Marshall was discussing Judicial Review long before it became jurisprudence. Someone would have brought us Judicial Review.
Why I am asking to rename John Marshall?
I am writing this letter to garner support to remove John Marshall’s racist name from institutions in Chicago (at my alma mater) and Cleveland, where I call home. I am not alone in this. U.S. Generals are calling on the President to rename military bases named after Confederates; Princeton has removed Woodrow Wilson’s name from the school due to his racist views and policies; the Florida Gators are ending their chant, “Gator Bait”; and many other examples of society waking up and eliminating our racist history.