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Justice Marshall speaks on social justice

Published: April 15, 2011
Section: Front Page


Photo by Alex Patch/The Hoot

Margaret Marshall, former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and Professor Anita Hill (Heller), spoke to Brandeis students about their lifelong careers and their commitment to social justice and civil rights.

“My commitment to equality is a higher calling,” Hill said. “When things keep calling out to you, you should listen. I came to the Heller School looking to learn from the people there to see what the missing link was between the law and peoples lives, that would bring justice to them and to the next generation.”

Marshall, who recently retired from the SJC, is the first woman to have held the position of Chief Justice and is known for her decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which states that the Massachusetts Constitution cannot deny citizens the right to same-sex marriage. Hill testified against former colleague and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his 1991 hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and accused him of sexually harassing comments towards here in the workplace.

Representatives from the Student Union and Students Organized Against Racism asked questions about how to promote women’s equality in the work force, and what Marshall and Hill want their own legacies to be.

While answering, Marshall and Hill spoke of their youth and how they became the successful women they are today.

Hill spoke of her childhood in rural Oklahoma and how she was lucky to have the opportunity to attend an integrated school, while many of her siblings did not.

Following Hill, Marshall spoke of her surprising path to law. Before studying criminal justice at Yale Law School, she was an art history student at Cape Town University in South Africa. “Once you have been active on a student campus it’s hard to stay inactive,” Marshall said. “By that stage I started a long love affair with the United States. It’s intangible, but I tasted freedom coming from a society where there wasn’t freedom,” she said, referring to the apartheid movement in South Africa.

Hill spoke about women’s rights in the workplace and the ongoing struggle with sexual harassment. “First of all, we need partners,” Hill said. “It’s not just about what women can do, it’s about what men need to be doing as well. That puts a lot of responsibility on you, but it has to be done if things are going to change. Every one of us can use some resource we have to make a difference. Doing something should be our default.”

In addition, Marshall spoke about the responsibility of all people to speak out against inequality nation-wide. “One thing you do not do, is sit by silently with racist, sexist and homophobic jokes. You just don’t.” Marshall pointed out that the United States bends over backwards to protect speech, but has yet to achieve racial or gender equality.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Marshall spoke about her plans for the future, following her retirement. “I really want to go back to the granular and work on something very low key.” She told students, “Try to find the way to listen to your voice and love what you do.”

Hill ended the discussion by encouraging students to challenge things they see as unjust. “You are going to be called on one day to challenge something that is wrong.

That is how things change. Every day, look for what you can do today to get what you need, to achieve your goal.”