Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Swearing In of Judge Thurgood Marshall as Solicitor General.

August 24, 1965

Judge and Mrs. Marshall and your two Attractive young boys, Mr. Justice Black, Mr. Justice Clark, distinguished Attorney General Katzenbach, Honorable J. Edgar Hoover, Members of Congress, my distinguished guests and friends:

Since assuming the Presidency more than a year and a half ago, I have made a total of 370 major appointments to the Federal Government. In each of these appointments it has been my goal and my determination to seek out the best qualified man or woman in the nation for the job, regardless of their party or their race or their sex.

That goal is fulfilled today as we meet here for the installation of Justice Thurgood Marshall as the 33d Solicitor General of the United States, and by this act we pay honor to a high office in the American Government, to a man, and, most of all, to the law.

Thurgood Marshall symbolizes what is best about our American society: the belief that human rights must be satisfied through the orderly processes of law.

At the pinnacle of our system of law is the great Supreme Court of the United States, and the Solicitor General is our first advocate before that great court. So it is a cause of profound satisfaction to me that in Judge Marshall we shall have an advocate whose lifelong concern has been the pursuit of justice for his fellow man.

For although his client will always be the United States of America, his interest does not always rest in triumph. As Mr. Justice Sutherland once observed, the Government's paramount interest "is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done." And that is the interest that we vest in the Solicitor General. In performing it he serves not only the executive branch but he serves the Court itself, for traditionally it has relied on him to set the standard for all the American bar in the country to follow. The position of Solicitor General is one of tremendous responsibility, and it is also, as that able scholar Archibald Cox, President Kennedy's Solicitor General, said, "the finest lawyer's position in all the world."

I want to say at this point that few men have served more forcefully or more successfully as Solicitor General of the United States than Archibald Cox. And as I noted when I accepted his resignation, Mr. Cox has argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any other living man--and he will hold that record at least until Thurgood Marshall. And he has argued those cases with remarkable effectiveness. His return to private life has left a void that can only be filled by a great professional from among the highest ranks of the American bar.

The life and the accomplishments of Thurgood Marshall testify that he is such a man. As chief counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he represented his clients not as Negroes, whose cases were special and different, but he represented them as Americans, with the same rights and the same responsibilities that the Constitution is supposed to give to every citizen.

The cases in which Judge Marshall became involved are already part of the social and legal history of our time. From 1940 on, Thurgood Marshall was in the vanguard of the legal effort against discrimination in higher education, against discrimination in housing, against discrimination in voting. And then in 1954 came the climax toward which this good man had labored so brilliantly for so long.

The Supreme Court's school desegregation decision launched the great movement to end the injustice that's too often inflicted on our Negro citizens. And I have asked our Cabinet officer, Mr. Gardner of HEW, to have his men work around the clock to make the desegregation decision of the Supreme Court a reality and a fact. I am glad that we are approaching it with such effectiveness, and I hope we will complete the job between now and the time the school term opens.

A decade later some may have forgotten how much courage and how much work and how much faith in the Nation those efforts demanded, but I think all of us remember his vision and his unyielding pursuit of justice.

In 1961 he was appointed by our late beloved President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, to one of the Nation's highest courts, and in the past 4 years he has written a distinguished record there. No one who knew this man expected it to be otherwise. No one who knew him thought that he would say "no" when a new and an even more compelling challenge was presented to him by his President. He accepted this assignment for one reason--because he knew that he was needed, and because he has always responded when he has been needed.

I think it might be observed that Thurgood Marshall is the first Negro in the history of the United States ever to become the Solicitor General. Thurgood Marshall is already in the front ranks of the great lawyers of this generation. He has argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court; he has won 29 of them. And that is a batting average of .900. It is likely that should he continue in his present assignment for the next 3 years, that he could very well argue 50 more cases before the highest Court in the land--and that would make him try more cases before the Supreme Court than any man in history had ever presented to that body.

But what is more relevant is that his Nation has now progressed to the point--in large measure because of some of the things that he has done--that race really no longer serves as a bar to the exercise of experience, or as a bar to the exercise of one's skills.

And so with gratitude for what he has done for all the people of America, and with confidence in his leadership to come, this morning we gather here in the Cabinet Room in the great Capital of the United States--where we hope very shortly we will have home rule and select our own officials-to salute Thurgood Marshall, the great American, the new Solicitor General of the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 10:53 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Judge Marshall and his wife and sons, Associate Justice Hugo L. Black of the Supreme Court of the United States, Associate Justice Tom C. Clark of the Supreme Court of the United States, Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, and J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

During his remarks the President referred to George Sutherland, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States 1922-1938, and John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Swearing In of Judge Thurgood Marshall as Solicitor General. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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