Thurgood Marshall Jr. urges students to build bridges at Brody Foundation Public Policy Forum

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By Samantha Caruso
For Mitzpeh
@Mitzpeh

The School of Public Policy at this university hosted a discussion with Thurgood Marshall Jr., an accomplished lawyer who formerly worked for the federal government, at the Stamp Student Union Tuesday evening.

Marshall is the son of the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice. During his time in the federal government, he was director of legislative affairs and deputy counsel to former Vice President Al Gore, after which he worked for the Clinton Administration as assistant to the former president and cabinet secretary. Marshall is now a partner at Morgan Lewis, counseling clients specifically in manners related to public policy.

Robert Orr, dean of the School of Public Policy, moderated the event.

Orr emphasized how important it was to Marshall that this event be seen as a conversation, not a speech. “When I invited Mr. Marshall to give a speech, he thought about it and thought about it and said, ‘On one condition. It’s a conversation, not a speech.’”

That condition made for a lively conversation between Marshall, Orr, and the audience.

Katie Bemb, a junior multiplatform journalism major, enjoyed the relaxed, conversational style of the event.

“I thought it was really sweet that he wanted to talk with all of us. For someone who has such an impressive track record, such a crazy career path, and whose father is such a big deal, he’s so down to earth,” she said.

Marshall began the discussion by explaining the importance of “schmoozing” in a congressional setting.

“As someone who believes in building bridges, I was blessed to work for three senators who were very much bridge builders, folks who tried to pull opposites together. There’s an element of ‘schmooze’ that’s missing in leadership circles, particularly in Washington now, and each of the senators that I had the privilege of being able to work for understood what is so important to being successful in trying to reach across and build those bridges,” Marshall said.

When asked about whether he believes young adults should pursue law careers and the future of the law profession, Marshall said, “I’m a true believer in the law school process and the practice of law as a tool for all sorts of things, including social justice.”

Thurgood Marshall Jr. (left) and Robert Orr (right) discussing the future of the legal profession. Samantha Caruso/Mitzpeh.

Marshall also spoke about his current projects, which include voting registration reform. “Lately, I’ve been excited to be engaged with a group that is trying to look at ways to improve the way in which we select our elected officials and also the way in which the parties select their nominees. We are long overdue for that kind of change.”

He went on to criticize the caucus system, which he called, “inherently discriminatory,” as an example of why a change to the election process is so necessary. “People who have child care needs or work obligations can’t afford to engage in that process,” he said.

Most notably, Marshall described the two keys which he believes to be the keys to maintaining American democracy, the first being the rule of law. “These are two ideals that have been time-honored in our society. I’m a rule-oriented person, but the rule of law, that was imperfect when the founders put it together, was the best, and remains the best, structure for a democracy like ours.”

The second key, he said, is diversity. “The other piece of this is that the fabric of our country has always recognized and honored the diversity of our cultures. We have, in many respects, gained a competitive advantage around the globe by harnessing that strength.”

University president Wallace Loh emphasized the importance of discussions of leadership and civic engagement on college campuses.

“Events like this are so important because what is at stake here is the future of our democracy and engagement of young people,” Loh said. “That is why we need to have civic education and American citizenship as part of college education through events like this.”

Destiny Schriefer, a junior international relations major, said she took away professional advice from the discussion.

“One of the takeaways from him was definitely put your ego in the trash can and ‘schmooze,’” she said. “It went such a long way for him in his career and brought him a lot of success. He also stressed bringing your better self to the table, so I’m going to try to do that when I’m working.”

The discussion with Marshall was the second in a series of events for the Norman and Florence Brody Family Foundation Public Policy Forum.

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