courtesy: Library of Congress

When President Lyndon Johnson named Thurgood Marshall Solicitor General in 1965, the president told Marshall explicitly he should not expect the appointment to be a stepping-stone to anything, including a position on the Supreme Court. Marshall took the president at his word. Still LBJ frequently reminded Marshall not to expect any appointment beyond Solicitor General.

Marshall later recalled, "[Johnson] said it at least two out of every three times I talked to him - at least that many times. And he convinced me, at least. As a matter of fact, I was at a party with him the night before he gave me the job and he said it, again."

After Associate Justice Tom Clark's resignation took effect on June 12, 1967, Marshall was summoned to the Oval Office. He had no idea what President Johnson needed to tell him.


Marshall: He had completely disarmed me, completely. I went in, and he was over there at the ticker tape machines, and I waited a little while, and I coughed, and he said, "Oh, hi, Thurgood. Sit down, sit down."

So we chatted just a few minutes, and I didn't ask him what was on his mind--I let him speak. And all of a sudden, he just looked at me and said, "You know something, Thurgood?"

I said, "No, sir, what's that?"

He said, "I'm going to put you on the Supreme Court."

I said, "Oh, yeah, yeah. What did you say?"

He said, "That's it."

I said, "Okay, sir."

He had the press out there waiting in the Rose Garden, and he carried me out and announced it, and then we came back in the Oval Room. And I said, "Mr. President, now look, they're going to get that on the wire in about a minute. Now, can I call my wife so she won't hear it on the air?"

He said, "You mean, you haven't told Cissy yet?"

courtesy: Library of Congress

I said, "No. How could I? I've been with you all the time."

So we called her, and I said, got her on the phone, I said, "Cissy, are you sitting down?"

She said, "No."

I said, "Well, you better sit down."

And she did, and then I beckoned to the president. The president said, "Cissy, this is Lyndon Johnson."

She said, "Yes, Mr. President?"

He said, "I just put your husband on the Supreme Court."

And Cissy said, "I sure am glad I'm sitting down."

That's as honest as I can be. I had no idea about it.

Then he said--very interesting--he said, "I guess this is the end of our friendship."

I said, "Yep. Just about."

Marshall's nomination hearing....

Marshall at his Supreme Court appointment hearing
courtesy: Library of Congress


No, Supreme Court wasn't too bad. The only guy I had against me then was Strom Thurmond--that's the only one. The rest of them just made, you know, little statements for the record.

Strom Thurmond had a whole lot of questions about what happened when the 14th Amendment was adopted, and I told him, I said, "Well, Senator, I'm not a memory expert. I do research. And if you give me the question and let me get to my library, tomorrow morning I'll give you the answer."

He said, "I want the answer now."

I said, "I don't know."

Then he asked another question. I said, "I don't have the slightest idea what the answer is."

And one of his questions was, "Who were the members of the committee that drafted the Fourteenth Amendment?"

I said, "I don't have the slightest idea. I can find it out in the Congressional Library."

"You don't know?"

I said, "No."

"You don't know?"

I said, "Nope, I don't know a one of them."

And I remember, at the confirmation hearing on the Senate floor, he raised up and said, "And this stupid guy didn't even know the members of the committee that drafted the Fourteenth Amendment."

And when he did, Ted [Edward M.] Kennedy. Senator Kennedy, said, "Will he yield for a question?" He said he'd yield.

He said, "You know, Senator, I, too, am interested-who were the members of the committee?"

You know what Thurmond said? "I'll let you know." He didn't know himself. He didn't know himself.