Dred Scott v. Sandford

Case Date: 12/05/2023

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants,[2] whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens.[3] Despite the fact that the decision is no longer "jurisprudentially important," it nevertheless had, and continues to have, lasting cultural and historical ramification/implications.[4] The Opinion of the Court, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, was, and remains, extremely controversial: legal scholars of diametrically opposed jurisprudence do not debate whether or not the decision was wrong, but rather why it is wrong. The decision was 7–2, and every Justice besides Taney wrote a separate concurrence or dissent. For the first time since Marbury v. Madison, the Court held an Act of Congress to be unconstitutional. The decision began by first concluding that the Court lacked jurisdiction in the matter because Dred Scott had no standing to sue in Court, as Scott, and all people of African descent for that matter, were found to not be citizens of the United States. This decision was contrary to the practice of numerous states at the time, particularly Free states, where freed slaves did in fact enjoy the rights of citizens, such as the right to vote and hold public office.[4] The decision of the court is often criticized as being obiter dictum because the Court went on to conclude that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that, because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Furthermore, the Court ruled that slaves, as chattels or private property, could not be taken away from their owners without due process. In reaching this decision, Taney had hoped to settle the issue of slavery in the United States with the Court's decision, but it had the opposite effect. The decision was fiercely debated across the country, as perhaps best exemplified by the Lincoln–Douglas debates of 1858. Abraham Lincoln, the second-ever Republican nominee for President, was able to win the presidential election in 1860; the stopping of the further expansion of slavery was a key Republican party plank. The court’s decision was so contentious that some go as far as to suggest that the Dred Scott decision caused the Civil War. Although such an assertion is rejected by most legal and historical scholars, it is nevertheless acknowledged that the decision did play an important role in the timing of state secession and the Civil War. The decision is also acknowledged for the influential role it played in altering the national political landscape: the decision is credited with launching Abraham Lincoln’s national political career and ultimately allowing for his election.[4] Although the Supreme Court has never explicitly overruled the Dred Scott case, the Court stated in the Slaughter-House Cases that at least one part of it had already been overruled by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which created citizenship at the national as opposed to the state level:.[5] The first observation we have to make on this clause is, that it puts at rest both the questions which we stated to have been the subject of differences of opinion. It declares that persons may be citizens of the United States without regard to their citizenship of a particular State, and it overturns the Dred Scott decision by making all persons born within the United States and subject to its jurisdiction citizens of the United States.[6] The reasoning used in the "Slaughter-House Cases" is extremely sound considering the fact that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments were written with the intention of overturning the Dred Scott decision.