The Dred Scott case, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1857, was an indirect catalyst for the American Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1868), which gave African Americans full citizenship. This controversial ruling has been universally denounced as one of the Supreme Court’s worst decisions.
Dred Scott, an enslaved man of “the negro African race” had been taken by his owners from Missouri, a slave state, to free states and territories (Illinois and Wisconsin territory). As a result, he sued in federal court for his freedom based on the Missouri Compromise of 1820, an act of Congress, which prohibited slavery in free states and territories. At the time of the lawsuit, Dred Scott and his family had been returned to Missouri and were under the ownership of Eliza Sanford. His lawyers contended he, and his wife and family, should be declared free on the basis that they had lived for a time in a “free” territory with his owners. In a 7-2 decision, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court denied Scott’s request holding that “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.] and sold as slaves,” whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court. Taney hoped his ruling would settle the slavery question. To the contrary, it spurred vehement dissent from anti-slavery states culminating four years later in the American Civil War.
A panel of descendants of Dred Scott, Peter Blow (one of Mr. Scott’s previous owners), Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, President Thomas Jefferson, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis will discuss the meaning of the Supreme Court decision in Scott v. Sanford, the life of Dred Scott, and Dred Scott’s impact on the nation. Faculty members from the National Judicial College will explore the role of the courts in a culturally responsive democracy and discuss a judge’s role today to promote fairness within the judicial process and the various tools a judge can use to ensure all people are treated equally in the justice system.
The symposium will take place on July 16, 2018, at Logan University in Chesterfield, Missouri. Aside from NAPCO, sponsors include the National Judicial College, Washington University School of Law, the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, the 21st Circuit of Missouri Diversity and Inclusion Committee, American Judges Association, Jackie Joyner–Kersee Foundation, and the Thompson Coburn Law Firm of St. Louis. For more information, download the event flyer.