Document Type


Publication Date



Thurgood Marshall, women's rights, constitutional law


Renowned civil rights advocate and race man Thurgood Marshall came of age as a lawyer during the black protest movement in the 1930s. He represented civil rights protesters, albeit reluctantly, but was ambivalent about post-Brown mass protests. Although Marshall recognized law's limitations, he felt more comfortable using litigation as a tool for social change. His experiences as a legal advocate for racial equality influenced his thinking as a judge.

Marshall joined the United States Supreme Court in 1967, as dramatic advancement of black civil rights through litigation waned. Other social movements, notably the women's rights movement, took its place. The push for women's equality had garnered some success in Congress, but the enforcement and scope of these protections became a focus of litigation in the 1970s and 1980s. While on the Court, Marshall played an important role in the advancement of women's equality, yet a few cases suggest he struggled when the interests of race and gender equality seemed to directly clash. This paper considers the ways in which Marshall's role as a participant and lawyer in the black civil rights movement influenced his thinking about gender equality. While his record on women's equality is very strong, Marshall's position in three cases indicates that he believed institution concerns sometimes trumped otherwise valid gender equality claims.

Publication Citation

18 Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law 15 (2010).


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Constitutional Law | Law and Gender