From the President
Honoring Justice Marshall and His Inspiration for Pro Bono Service
By Robert J. Anello
This year while we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Federal Bar Foundation, and its commitment to the administration of justice and the study of law, the Federal Bar Council is planning the inaugural presentation of the Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service. The award in Justice Marshall’s name is being established by the Federal Bar Council to encourage attorneys and their firms to devote time to pro bono work. The award will recognize lawyers who have gone above and beyond in making an extraordinary contribution in the area of pro bono service. Named after perhaps the most inspirational of service-minded jurists, the Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service distinguishes those attorneys who persistently dedicate time to meet the needs of vulnerable communities, have a vision for creative ways in which to provide pro bono service, and inspire and mentor fellow lawyers to volunteer their professional expertise to help others.
The Federal Bar Council did not act lightly in invoking Justice Marshall’s name for this purpose. Instead, we hoped to set this pro bono award apart from others bestowed in our field by embracing the path blazed by the Supreme Court’s 96th justice, its first African-American justice, and one of the Second Circuit’s own. Justice Marshall had a close association with our organization. During his tenure on the nation’s highest court, where he was the Circuit Justice of the Second Circuit, Thurgood Marshall attended numerous Federal Bar Council Winter Bench and Bar Conferences.
The award in Justice Marshall’s name is being established by the Federal Bar Council to encourage attorneys and their firms to devote time to pro bono work.
Thurgood Marshall spent his early career working for the public good as head of the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the NAACP. He held this position at a time when the NAACP was held in low regard by some. He earned a meager living and juggled hundreds of cases while traveling to areas of the country that did not welcome a black man advocating for civil rights. Despite countless roadblocks that would discourage even the heartiest among us, Thurgood Marshall deployed the Constitution to tear down the notion of “separate but equal,” amassing a near flawless record before the Supreme Court, including the landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.
Working with other future federal judges Constance Baker Motley and Robert C. Carter, Justice Marshall used the legal system to dismantle government-sanctioned discrimination. The Supreme Court’s holding 60 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education declaring unconstitutional state laws that established separate public education for black and white students paved the way for integration. Just as this decision inspired and buoyed the civil rights movement, Justice Marshall’s efforts have inspired countless other attorneys to public service and pro bono work.
A Second Circuit Judge
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Justice Marshall endured a year-long confirmation process during which his credentials and intellect were challenged by Southern senators. Standing firm in the face of these attacks, Justice Marshall went on to serve as a Second Circuit Judge for four years, issuing more than 100 decisions – none of which ever was reversed by the Supreme Court. His colleague on the Second Circuit, Judge Irving R. Kaufman, once stated that Marshall’s opinions “bore eloquent testimony to his concern for the dignity and inviolability of the individual.” (Charles L. Zelden, “Thurgood Marshall: Race, Rights, and the Struggle for a More Perfect Union,” Routledge (2013).)
On the Supreme Court
After later serving as the Solicitor General for two years under President Lyndon B. Johnson, during which time he won 14 of the 19 cases argued before the High Court, Thurgood Marshall was nominated in 1967 to serve on the
U.S. Supreme Court by President Johnson. During his tenure on the Court, Justice Marshall continued to advocate for those without a voice, insisting that the Constitution be applied equally to all citizens regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic status. Birthed in the era of racial discrimination, Marshall’s sensitivity to and work on behalf of individual rights is unparalleled.
The FBC’s Marshall Award
With great pride the Federal Bar Council annually will present the Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service to recognize lawyers in private practice who demonstrate exemplary commitment to pro bono legal services, and who provide or facilitate the provision of pro bono services in federal courts or agencies within the Second Circuit. We look forward to celebrating and supporting the continued service to those in need by lawyers practicing within the Second Circuit in the same vein championed by Justice Thurgood Marshall so many years ago.