Supreme Court Meme

As evidenced by Katie Couric, Sarah Palin is unable to name any Supreme Court Case other than Roe v. Wade.

The Rules: Post info about ONE Supreme Court decision, modern or historical your lj. (Any decision, as long as it’s not Roe v. Wade.) For those who see this on your f-list, take the meme to your OWN lj to spread the fun.

I’m afraid that apart from Roe v Wade there is only one Supreme Court case that I could name offhand; and it is one that shows the American system essentially failing. I refer, of course to Dred Scott v. Sandford, the 1857 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves, could never be citizens of the United States, and that slaves could not sue in court. Chief Justice Taney’s actual opinion is a profoundly offensive and appalling document, a disgrace to the Supreme Court and to the American constitution – to single out one passage, this is where he creatively interprets statement of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal”:

The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration, for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted, and instead of the sympathy of mankind to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.

To which I would respond: first, even if the Founding Fathers did not themselves live by those words, they are none the less words which one should aspire to live by; and second, they did indeed receive “rebuke and reprobation” for their hypocrisy at the time – Samuel Johnson had famously asked “how is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of the negroes?”

The Dred Scott judgement was physically revoked by the outcome of the Civil War, and legally undone by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of 1865 and 1868, the first since constitutional amendments since 1804. Not a lot of use for Dred Scott himself, who died in November 1857, ten months after the Supreme Court ruling. In the meantime his emancipation had been bought by a former owner, so he did at least die a free man. (One minor additional irritating point in Taney’s judgement is that Scott’s owner’s name is misspelled – it was Sanford not Sandford.)

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