Ex-justice's slaveholding past prompts move to change Ohio law school's name

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 on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
  • A committee has recommended changing the name of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
  • 19th Century Chief Justice John Marshall owned a large number of slaves

(Reuters) - Another law school is close to a break-up with the influential early U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.

An ad-hoc committee formed by Cleveland State University on Thursday unanimously recommended changing the name of its law school to remove a reference to Marshall, who was chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835. The school is currently named the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Marshall authored some of the high court's most important early opinions, including Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland—which established judicial review and the supremacy of the federal government over states, respectively. But Marshall has come under new scrutiny for his judicial record upholding slavery and his ownership of a large number of slaves.

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“In a majority-minority city, the Marshall name does not represent the community of Cleveland,” the committee said in its report, which it presented to the university’s Board of Trustees this week. The committee also noted that Marshall had no ties to the school.

In a Thursday message to the law school community, law dean Lee Fisher said University President Laura Bloomberg has endorsed the name change and that he expects a final decision from the board of trustees in November.

“We want to be known as an institution that values diversity, equity and inclusion,” Fisher wrote. “The committee felt keeping Marshall’s name on the Law School simply did not represent those principles and values.”

If Cleveland State University removes the Marshall name in November, it will become the third law school in the span of 18 months to change names in response to the misdeeds of a historical namesake. The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law dropped Marshall from its name in May 2021, after nearly a year of discussion among students and alumni.

The University of California Hastings College of the Law announced in July that it will become the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, in early 2023. The new name eliminates reference to Serranus Hastings, a former California Supreme Court justice who founded the law school in 1878. Historians say Hastings orchestrated the killings of Native Americans in order to remove them from ranch land he purchased in Northern California.

Cleveland State’s law school studied the name change issue for 18 months and gathered feedback from 1,349 stakeholders, according to the ad hoc committee’s report. A slight majority supported retaining the school’s name, with alumni comprising the bulk of those supporters. A majority of current students and faculty, however, said they wanted a new name.

Read more:

Another law school mulls name change over slaveholding Supreme Court justice

UC Hastings is history as law school drops controversial namesake

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