Jason Riley certainly thought Justice Thurgood Marshall’s approach to it deserved respect.
One of the final scenes in “Marshall,” a new film about the early legal career of civil rights superstar Thurgood Marshall, shows the future Supreme Court justice in a train station in Mississippi. It’s 1941—peak Jim Crow —and a large “Whites Only” sign hangs above a water fountain beside him.
Marshall ignores the sign, takes a paper cup from the dispenser, and draws water from the fountain. An elderly black gentleman quietly watches him, in seeming awe of this defiant act. The two men exchange glances but no words as Marshall exits the station, yet his message to the older man is clear: don’t be afraid.
That much is to the good, most assuredly.
Unfortunately, the movie that Riley reviewed seems to have omitted another aspect of Marshall’s political behavior. Marshall deliberately dragged politics into the courts. Speaking at a traditional Supreme Court mid-term lunch for the Court’s clerks, for instance, Marshall said this, in all seriousness:
You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.
A judge ruling on any basis other than what the law says pulls what are solely political branch authorities into his court. That’s utterly disrespectful.