U.S. law school changes name to drop early Supreme Court justice

  • Cleveland State University has removed Justice John Marshall from the name of its law school
  • The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law made a similar move after new scholarship outlined the scale of Marshall’s slave holdings

(Reuters) – A second U.S. law school is changing its name to remove a reference to early influential U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is now the CSU College of Law after the Cleveland State University Board of Trustees on Thursday approved the name change. That decision comes after an ad-hoc committee unanimously recommended rebranding the school in light of Marshall’s record as a slaveholder.

Marshall was the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835 and 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.

“We cannot ignore the reality that Chief Justice John Marshall bought and sold hundreds of slaves throughout his adult life,” wrote law dean Lee Fisher in a Thursday message to students, adding that unlike his contemporaries such as George Washington, Marshall did not free any of his slaves.

Fisher said the name change is not about erasing history but understanding and reckoning history “in the context of present-day values.”

The move marks the third time in less than three years that a law school has changed its name to remove a controversial 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.

Descendants of Serranus Hastings in October sued to stop the name change, claiming that it violates an 1878 contract he made with California to provide $100,000 in gold to establish the school. The law school has countered that its actions are constitutionally protected.

The only law school still named for Marshall is Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. Its dean did not immediately respond to a request Friday on whether officials are also considering a change.

Read more:

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

UC Hastings law school sued by namesake’s heirs over name change

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