Justice Marshall Quits High Court, to Disappointment of Jewish Groups
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Justice Marshall Quits High Court, to Disappointment of Jewish Groups

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The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the last vestige of the high court’s liberal wing and the only black to have served on the nation’s highest court, has increased the anxiety in the Jewish community that the narrowing separation of church and state may be eroded further.

Marshall, who will be 83 on July 2, announced his resignation Thursday, citing advanced years and poor health.

The announcement came almost a year after the Jewish community was saddened by the retirement of Justice William Brennan, also for poor health. Brennan and Marshall had been the leading advocates for civil rights and civil liberties left on the court.

“It is very, very, very unhappy news,” exclaimed Sammie Moshenberg, Washington representative of the National Council of Jewish Women. “He was one of our few friends on the court.”

Moshenberg explained that by “our” she meant women, Jews and anyone concerned with civil rights and civil liberties. “He has been a wonderful friend,” she added. “It’s very sad.”

On the court, Marshall has not only been a leading supporter of individual rights, but an advocate for affirmative action, for abortion and against the death penalty.

Samuel Rabinove, legal director for the American Jewish Committee, also expressed sorrow at Marshall’s retirement. “Marshall has been a staunch defender of civil liberties and civil rights for all Americans,” he said.

Rabinove said Marshall’s departure will be a loss for those who believe in civil rights and liberties. “The principle of separation of church and state will be weakened,” he said. “The principle of free exercise of religion will be weakened.”


Phil Baum, associate executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said Marshall “has been a model and inspiration for two generations of civil rights lawyers. He has graced the courts on which he has served and permanently altered for the better the legal landscape of this country.”

Jess Hordes, director of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League, called Marshall “a towering light in support of what was best in this country.” He said his retirement will be a “major loss to the country.”

William Rapfogel, executive director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, called Marshall “an eloquent voice for all Americans,” who was “sensitive to the Jewish community.”

The Orthodox Union differs with other Jewish organizations in considering tax credit and other aid to parochial schools consistent with the separation of church and state.

But Rapfogel said he believes that the court, which has become more conservative in recent years, is moving closer to this viewpoint.

The Jewish officials said they hope President Bush will name someone of Marshall’s stature to replace him.

In a statement issued Thursday, Bush said he intends to nominate a successor “very soon.”

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