By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Margaret Marshall’s legacy

Margaret Marshall

The big local news of the day is that Margaret Marshall, chief justice of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, is retiring in order to take care of her ailing husband, retired New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

But before Marshall joined the SJC, she was general counsel for Harvard University, using hardball tactics to make accusations of racial discrimination go away. I wrote about her Harvard days for the Boston Phoenix in 1999.

My take back then was that Marshall was not the liberal firebrand her supporters were hoping she’d be. Yet she will forever be known as the author of the Goodridge (pdf) decision, which paved the way for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. It is a magnificent legacy, and Media Nation sends her best wishes upon her retirement.

And speaking of Lewis, I’ve read two of his books on the First Amendment, and they are both first-rate: “Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment” and “Freedom for the Thought We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment.” Highly recommended.

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  1. Justice Marshall’s legal acumen, warmth and dignity will be sorely missed. She was a tireless advocate for adequate funding to support the judiciary in the Commonwealth. Agree with you regarding the caliber of Lewis’ works that you cite, and would add “Gideon’s Trumpet” to the list. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Lewis on a couple of occasions and he’s a class act.

  2. B.A. DuBois

    Ah yes, Anthony Lewis, who pooh-poohed those who were concerned that the advent of the Khmer Rouge was a bad thing: “The whole bloodbath debate is unreal. What future could possibly be more terrible than the reality of what is happening to Cambodia now?” NYT, 3/17/1975,

    and who once compared a mass murder like Osama bin-Laden to John Ashcroft, “certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.” NYT, 12/19/2001

    Not sure if I’d call that a class act…

    • Dan Kennedy

      @B.A. You may have a future as the Andrew Breitbart of Media Nation. Here is the 2001 interview you quote from. His comment about bin Laden and Ashcroft may be ill-chosen, but the rest of it consists of the thoughts of an eminently reasonable person. Among other things, he praises the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. Of course, this was pre-Tora Bora.

      Because I am a Times subscriber, I was able to access the 1975 column as well. I could only get an image file, so I can’t quote from it without retyping, which I’m not going to do. But it’s available to any Times subscriber for free, and to non-subscribers for a nominal fee. If anything, your selective quoting mischaracterizes Lewis even more egregiously than in your 2001 excerpt. The column was written by a sensible liberal trying to balance the known atrocities of the U.S.-backed Lon Nol government with the rumored atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.

      You may recall that Prince Sihanouk was the figurehead leader of the Khmer Rouge, and he was making many promises and guarantees. As soon as the Khmer Rouge came to power, it broke those promises, and Sihanouk was forced to flee to China. You are blaming Lewis for not anticipating the holocaust to come, which is ahistorical at best.

  3. BP Myers

    Ooh, can I play?

    “I believe that demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” – Ken Adelman

    “The insurgency in Iraq is in the last throes.” – Dick Cheney.

    “Mission Accomplished.”

    This is fun.

  4. Laurence Glavin

    I wonder if Margaret Marshall’s successor will be, like her, an African-American?

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