Back when she was a graduate student at Harvard, far from her native South Africa, Margaret Hilary Marshall found her calling in a particular form of persuasion.
It was the early 1970s, and Marshall, then in her mid-20s and studying education, spent much of her time fighting apartheid, encouraging the US government to impose economic sanctions on South Africa. As she traveled across a foreign country, addressing nonprofit groups and churches, she found herself face-to-face with people whose world views were vastly different from her own.
"Going to Nebraska, talking to a group of religious women, that's what did it for me," Marshall said back then. "To talk to people who didn't agree with you, and who risked something if they changed, that was exciting. Those were the Americans I fell in love with."
Three decades later, observers see that same spirit in Marshall's tenure as chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and especially in the 50-page decision she penned in favor of gay marriage. It's written in colloquial, conversational tones, with blunt sentences and hints of humor — aimed as much at the street level as at fellow jurists, said Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of law at Harvard University.
The writing seems "designed to speak to people who may begin with an almost instinctive reaction of rejection," Tribe said. "It's fully cognizant of how it's swimming upstream."
. . . many [observers] also note that Marshall has long been acutely aware of the Massachusetts high court's place in history, and is eager to preserve its legacy.
Boston Globe, November 20, 2003.