The RNC's Thurgood Marshall Problem

June 30, 2010 9:46 am ET — Walid Zafar

Back in May, the Republican National Committee and its chairman, Michael Steele, began attacking former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (for whom Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan clerked) for having suggested that the Constitution, "as originally drafted and conceived," was "defective."  Marshall, one of the leading figures of the civil rights movement, observed that the Constitution initially protected the institution of slavery.  In attacking Kagan for having echoed Marshall's sentiment, Steele and the RNC were essentially saying that the inclusion of slavery did not make the Constitution defective, all for political gain.

At a time when the base of the Republican Party is almost entirely comprised of whites, particularly in the South, the RNC's race-baiting seems appalling.  Interestingly, Steele, who was chastised earlier in the year for saying that blacks had no reason to vote Republican, has made outreach to minority communities a big part of his tenure as head of the RNC.  Attacking Thurgood Marshall might fly at the country club, but it's surely not going to broaden the shrinking base of the GOP.

What's worse, as Mother Jones pointed out yesterday, during his time in Maryland politics, Steele was one of Marshall's biggest admirers.

For instance, in July 2004, Steele honored Marshall as a barrier-shattering champion on the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Standing in front of a memorial statue of Marshall near the Governor's Mansion in Baltimore, Steele declared: "Without the '64 act, I do not stand in the shadow of this giant."

In 2005, Steele helped christen the state's largest airport "Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport." A year later, Steele unveiled an exhibit at the airport honoring the judicial work of its namesake. "It is particularly significant for our younger Marylanders, who may not be familiar with [Marshall's] legacy," Steele said at the 2006 ceremony. "He honored us by his example, and we are proud to honor him in this small way."

Adding to the irony, the RNC's website lists Brown v. Board of Education as one of the Republican Party's greatest accomplishments.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.  The author of Brown v. Board of Education was a Republican, Chief Justice Earl Warren.

While it was Warren who decided the case, it was the young Thurgood Marshall who argued it and won it, thereby launching a career that culminated on the Supreme Court.

Also interesting: the same Earl Warren, who the RNC proudly touts as a Republican hero, had no prior judicial experience before being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Eisenhower.  The RNC has gone after Kagan for having no judicial experience. 

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