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The Constitution: A Living Document | Study Guide

Thurgood Marshall

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Course Hero. "The Constitution: A Living Document Study Guide." April 10, 2020. Accessed June 10, 2023.


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Thurgood Marshall

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At a Glance

  • In 1987, as plans began to celebrate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908–93) gave a speech that became controversial.
  • Marshall, the first African American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, pointed out the many ways that the Constitution, when written, limited the rights of certain groups.
  • It took a bloody Civil War, several amendments, and a bitter struggle for civil rights, he explained, for the country to recognize the rights of African Americans. Marshall himself had been active in the civil rights movement.
  • He noted that women were not allowed to vote until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.
  • Marshall closed saying that the "living Constitution"—the one that changed over time to expand and grant fundamental rights to more people was the Constitution he revered, not the original restrictive one.
  • Marshall's speech stirred controversy, as conservatives argued that he showed insufficient regard for the country's founding document. The conflict between supporters of the "living Constitution" and those who favor more conservative legal analysis continues today.


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