U.S. law school changes name to drop early Supreme Court justice

Cleveland State University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to change the longtime name of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in light of increased scrutiny of the college’s namesake, former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who owned slaves.

The name change comes after a lengthy review process, first by a “naming committee” created within the law school itself, then by an ad hoc committee appointed by President Laura Bloomberg, then the college’s provost. That process occurred after a petition in 2020 pressured Cleveland State and other schools across the country to drop Marshall’s name.

The board’s Academic Affairs and Student Success Committee Chair Timothy Cosgrove said the name change is not about Marshall’s history as a jurist, which will still be taught.

“It was simply a question of, ‘Does the Marshall name belong on our law school, does it represent the values of our university, and our College of Law?’ And that was the question,” he said.

The name for the college will now be the Cleveland State University College of Law.

Emily Foresee, a law student at the law school and member of the group Students Against Marshall, welcomed the university dropping Marshall’s name, and said the name change is a long time in coming. She said two cohorts of students have graduated since the conversation ramped up around removing the name, and the name of a slave owner remained on their diplomas.

“This is a conversation we’re having nationally about whether or not we are going to take this issue further as a country and really stand for letting Black students, students with ancestral ties to slavery, sit in buildings that are named after slave owners,” she said.

John Plecnik, director of the master of legal studies program at the law school, said there’s no defending the slave-owning legacy of Marshall, or other critically influential figures in U.S. history, like George Washington.