Law schools in Cleveland and Chicago consider dropping Marshall from their names because of racial concerns

Two law schools named after Chief Justice John Marshall are considering dropping his name because of his ties to slavery. The University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall Law School and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Ohio have both appointed committees to look into the matter and to get feedback from the community. 

Marshall was the nation’s longest serving Chief Justice, holding the position from 1805 to 1835. However, the Revolutionary war figure owned slaves for most of his life. He did so, even though he called slavery “evil.”  

Many colleges and other institutions are examining their ties to historic figures who held slaves and/or supported such cruelty. It comes in the wake of the social unrest the nation is experiencing, spurred by police brutality cases against Blacks.

One of the people behind the push for the name changes is Hanna Kassis. He started a petition in June, created a website, and started up social media accounts for his efforts to rename all schools that have Marshall’s name attached to them.  He is now on the committee that’s looking into a name change at UIC Law, from which he graduated. 

“As Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall owned slaves, upheld slavery, perpetuated the slave trade, and he denied Native American rights to the land. Yet so many schools are named after him, from elementary schools to a few law schools,” the petition reads. 

This petition has garnered thousands of signatures and demanded action from both law schools. In response, UIC Law Dean Darby Dickerson recently announced the creation of the task force. 

“After listening to input from the law school community, I am appointing a new task force and a new committee to further our work to become an antiracist law school,” Dickerson wrote. “I hope you all will work with these two groups to help us continue to evolve and grow. In the near future, I will be providing additional updates and details about other antiracism programs and initiatives.”

Dickerson said the task force started working immediately and she is expecting the work to be complete by January 2021.  

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, the same sort of reflection is occurring. 

In a statement to a Cleveland news station, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law said: “We take the petition to change the name of our law school and the spirit in which it was written very seriously. We reject and condemn racism in all its forms — overt, covert, and systemic, and we accept our responsibility to evaluate our role in perpetuating racism, whether it is conscious or unconscious.” 

The school also announced that a committee is being formed to study the issue. 

During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Marshall participated in 1,000 decisions and wrote more than 500 himself. He is most known for his role in defending the foundation of judicial power and the principles of American federalism. 

Despite all this, historians have documented that Marshall was a slave owner. 

“It’s proof of systemic racism and the whole argument that we’re erasing history is kind of bogus because the act of renaming itself becomes history, and there’s a right side to that history and there’s a wrong side to that history," Kassis said in an interview with a news station.

Two other law school’s that have Marshall name – Atlanta’s John Marshal Law School and the College of Willian and Mary Marshall-Wythe School – have not taken any steps toward changing the name of their institutions.