Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court Margaret H. Marshall delivered a talk on judicial reform in the United States before a large audience in Memorial Church last night.
Marshall’s speech was part of the Paul Tillich Lecture Series, founded to commemorate the work of former Harvard professor and renowned theologian Paul J. Tillich.
Whereas many past lecturers in the series focused their talks primarily on Tillich’s religious views, Marshall connected Tillich’s work to her own field.
“It is [Tillich’s] passion for justice I invoke this evening, because this passion is also close to my heart,” she said.
Marshall highlighted the politicizing of state judiciaries as an area for reform.
She expressed dismay at the growing influence of donations by special interest groups in “multimillion-dollar scorched-earth campaigns” over the decisions made by judges.
“All judges must have the backbone to do what is right, according to the rule of law,” Marshall said.
She also pointed to the lack of funding for state courts as another significant barrier to court accessibility.
According to Marshall, the services of many courts are not readily accessible, especially to the handicapped and the increasing population of senior citizens.
She also praised Tillich’s “uncompromising resolve to see the world for what it is” and asked her audience to push for judicial reform.
Marshall ended her talk by asking the audience, “Will you act on the ideas embodied in the Constitution and teach them to others?” The query garnered sustained applause and a standing ovation.
Tillich lecture series founder and curator William R. Crout said he chose Marshall as a speaker in the series following her recent retirement announcement.
Marshall, the first woman to hold the Massachusetts Chief Justice position, has served in the role since 1999.
“I thought it would be a wonderful thing for her to take part in the lectures. She immediately accepted,” Crout said.
Last night’s talk was the 37th lecture to take place in honor of Tillich.
Tillich, who was born in Prussia and educated in Berlin, was a strong opponent of Hitler and one of the first non-Jewish faculty to be dismissed from the University of Frankfurt in 1933.
Following his dismissal, Tillich immigrated to the United States and was appointed a University professor at Harvard in 1954, where he taught at the Harvard Divinity School.