Another law school mulls name change over slaveholding Supreme Court justice

3 minute read

Tourists pass a large statue of John Marshall, who served as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, at the U.S. Supreme Court building. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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  • Some students and alumni want Cleveland-Marshall College of Law renamed before graduation
  • A Chicago law school has already removed 19th century justice John Marshall from its name due to his slaveholding and jurisprudence upholding slavery

(Reuters) - Students at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Ohio are pushing administrators to adopt a name that doesn’t honor former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, who wrote several of the high court’s most influential early decisions but also owned and sold a large number of slaves.

The movement to rename the school, which is part of Cleveland State University, began in the summer of 2020, amid national protests over racism and inequality. It picked up steam this week after a Cleveland City Councilman introduced a resolution urging CSU administrators to change the name.

Students Against Marshall, a law student group that formed in the fall, is pushing for a name-change in time for commencement in May. “We will not be complicit while yet another class of our colleagues graduate with a brutal slave trader’s name on their diploma,” the group said in a statement.

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The law school would be the second in as many years to distance itself from the famed jurist, who penned the court’s opinions in Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland, which established judicial review and the supremacy of the federal government over states, respectively. Marshall was the chief justice from 1801 to 1835.

The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law in May dropped Marshall from its name, after nearly a year of discussion among students and alumni. It had been known as The John Marshall Law School until 2019, when it merged into the public university and became the University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall Law School.

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

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law formed a committee in August 2020 to examine a name change and has convened a series of town halls and panels to discuss it. In December, it sent a survey asking students, alumni, and faculty to weigh in.

Law Dean Lee Fisher said the responses have been mixed.

"The law school name process has modeled what we teach our law students—to listen and learn, and to withhold judgment until we have had a chance to evaluate what we have heard," Fisher wrote in an email.

Read more:

UC Hastings Law will rebrand after outcry over namesake

Harvard Law rolls out new seal after ditching one with slavery ties

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com