Ohio law school purges Chief Justice John Marshall from its name because he owned slaves

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Cleveland State University is purging the name of the legendary late Chief Justice John Marshall from its 125-year-old law school because he was a slaveowner.

Critics say tearing down statues of America’s founders and early leaders, and removing their names from institutions is part of the woke movement aimed at canceling historic figures and lessons, and undermining the nation’s morale, traditions, and culture.

Marshall, who became the nation’s fourth chief justice in 1801, died in 1835. He was the nation’s longest-serving chief justice and its most influential. Marshall is most famous for his role in helping to fashion the defining 1803 precedent, Marbury v. Madison, which established the principle of judicial review; that is, the power of federal courts to declare legislative and executive acts unconstitutional.

In another opinion authored by Marshall, McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the court helped to establish the supremacy of the federal government over the states.

Scholars say Marshall made the Supreme Court what it is today and introduced an important means of curbing governmental powers and forcing political leaders to adhere to the U.S. Constitution.

But Marshall is criticized by some today for owning slaves, even though the practice was systemic throughout society and lawful at the time, and they say that this single fact outweighs all his other accomplishments.

On Nov. 17, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law became the CSU College of Law after the university’s board of trustees approved the name change following a unanimous recommendation from a committee of left-wing academics.

“We cannot ignore the reality that Chief Justice John Marshall bought and sold hundreds of slaves throughout his adult life,” law school dean Lee Fisher said in a message to students. Fisher noted that unlike the nation’s first president George Washington, Marshall did not free his slaves when he died.

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

The Cleveland Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University descends from two law schools—the Cleveland Law School founded in 1897, and the John Marshall School of Law, founded in 1916. In 1946, the two law schools merged to become Cleveland Marshall Law School. In 1969, the Law School joined Cleveland State University and was renamed the Cleveland Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University, according to a university summary.

The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law also eliminated Marshall from its name in May 2021.

The University of California Hastings College of the Law said this summer that it will become the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, next year. The change takes away a reference to the law school’s founder, Serranus Hastings, a former California Supreme Court justice who founded the law school and who reportedly mistreated Native Indians.

Reuters contributed to this report.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Nov. 20, 2022, in The Epoch Times.

Photo: Chief Justice John Marshall