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Thurgood Marshall's life as a civil rights lawyer inspired my decision to go to law school, so it was the greatest of dreams fulfilled when I came to work as his law clerk at the Supreme Court. Now, as he leaves the Court, it is an honor to mark his retirement in these pages.
Marshall is an extraordinary figure in American legal history. He has lived many lives—indeed, while others marvel over his professional durability at the age of eighty-three, I actually think of him as having compressed more than a hundred years of living into that time span. He was the country's greatest civil rights lawyer during the greatest period for civil rights advances in our history, and in that role he lived a life of relentless intensity and danger, and one of transforming achievement. He was a United States Court of Appeals Judge. He was Solicitor General of the United States (his favorite job, he has often said with complete seriousness—an advocate's job in which he spoke for "the United States," not simply a faction or insurgent part of the whole). Finally, he became a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States during one of its most dramatic periods of change. While he was a top government official for much of this time—an insider and a colleague of the advantaged—he spent his entire career trying to protect the disadvantaged and identifying with them.
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