Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court

Overview

The Dred Scott decision of 1857 is widely (and correctly) regarded as the very worst in the long history of the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision held that no African American could ever be a U.S. citizen and declared that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional and void. The decision thus appeared to promise that slavery would be forever protected in the great American West. Prompting mass outrage, the decision was a crucial step on the road that led to the Civil ...

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Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court

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Overview

The Dred Scott decision of 1857 is widely (and correctly) regarded as the very worst in the long history of the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision held that no African American could ever be a U.S. citizen and declared that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional and void. The decision thus appeared to promise that slavery would be forever protected in the great American West. Prompting mass outrage, the decision was a crucial step on the road that led to the Civil War.

Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court traces the history of the case and tells the story of many of the key people involved, including Dred and Harriet Scott. President James Buchanan, Chief Justice Roger Taney, and Abraham Lincoln. Many modern commentators view the case chiefly in relation to Roe V. Wade and related controversies in modern constitutional law. Judge Ethan Greenberg demonstrates that most modern critiques of the case have little merit. The Dred Scott case was not about constitutional methodology, but chiefly about slavery, and about how very far the Dred Scott Court was willing to go to protect the political interests of the slave-holding South. The decision was wrong because the Court subordinated law and intellectual honesty to politics. The case thus exemplifies the dangers of a political Court.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard A. Posner
Ethan Greenberg has written what will probably prove to be the definitive account and analysis of the Dred Scott decision—one of the most consequential, and reviled, decisions in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. This is a beautifully written book, providing both a gripping narrative of the Dred Scott litigation and a penetrating analysis of the opinions of the Justices, and of the use made of the decision by modern scholars in debates over Roe v. Wade.
Philip Weinberg
Judge Greenberg has written a superb analysis of the infamous Dred Scott decision, vividly depicting the historical background, the human story of the litigants, and most perceptively, how the decision relates to the judicial philosophies of the justices on today's Supreme Court.
Richard Slotkin
An original and insightful study, which shows the significant connection between the Supreme Court's 'worst decision' and the legal theories behind modern Court decisions.
Louisiana History
The volume synthesizes much of the historical scholarship on Dred Scott and imbibes deeply in the literature on the era, presenting this material in a clear and organized fashion. . . .The book's subdivisions into clearly labeled parts, chapters, and subsections makes it useful too for teachers of U.S. survey classes. . . .Clearly written and argued, and thoroughly accessible to the reader with less background in legal theory and history, Greenberg's Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court makes an interesting and comprehensive introduction to the Dred Scott case. . . .Greenberg's argument is convincing and significant for the current day—particularly in light of what he points out as the almost flippant way the Dred Scott case gets used in politics and journalism.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780739137598
  • Publisher: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc
  • Publication date: 8/11/2010
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ethan Greenberg is an Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice and an Adjunct Professor at Fordham Law School.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I History

1 Preface-Dred Scott in a House Divided 11

2 A Slave's Life 15

3 False Promise of Freedom-Scott's State Court Trials 25

4 "A Dark and Fell Spirit"-The Missouri Supreme Court Reverses 35

5 New Trial and Defeat in St. Louis Federal Court 41

6 At the Summit-Argument and Reargument Before the U.S. Supreme Court 49

7 The President-Elect Secretly Intervenes 63

8 "The South Is Doomed"-Chief Justice Roger Taney 83

Part II Law

9 Taney's Opinion of the Court: An Overview 103

10 Can a Black Man Be a True American?-Taney on Negro Citizenship 107

11 "Upon These Considerations"-Taney Strikes Down the Missouri Compromise 121

12 The Road Not Taken-Taney on Choice of Law and Res Judicata 145

13 The Majority Concurs (After a Fashion) 149

14 Two Ringing Dissents 187

15 Reaction and the Way to Civil War 221

Part III Analysis

16 The Use and Misuse of History 243

17 The Aspirationalist Critique-"Indifference to Injustice" 251

18 The Originalist Critique-"First Cousin" to Roe 275

19 The Traditional "Judicial Restraint" Critique 299

20 Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court 309

Select Bibliography 321

Index 325

About the Author 329

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