March 6 -- Scott v Sanford
As ever, I know that this is one we have been beaten in the head with as far as items to cover for black history is concerned, but the other options were an unfunny black comedian (D.L. Hughley) and a basketball player who has been out of my good graces for 7 years now (Shaquille O’Neal).
On March 6, 1856 the US Supreme Court ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States as slaves (or THEIR progeny, whether or not they themselves were slaves) had no protections under the Constitution and therefore had no rights as citizens.
Also, congress had no authority to stop slavery in federal territories and since slaves were not to be citizens, due process applied not to them, and they could not sue in court.
Speaking of due process, however, slave OWNERS – owner being the operative word here – were protected in that their slaves were viewed as property and therefore could not be taken without due process.
What is funny about Dred Scott is that the Supreme Court has yet to overrule it, even to this day. The argument against officially overruling comes in the “well, the 14th amendment supersedes it anyway” argument.
Passive-aggressive lawmaking, much?
The case goes that Dred Scott was an oft-shifted property who eventually came into the possession of an army member who eventually died. Following his owner’s death, he became property of the wife of his owner, from whom he attempted to purchase his freedom, but she declined.
When she declined, he SUED for his freedom, and that of his wife and daughter based upon technicalities related to residence in free territories for he and his wife, and his daughter being born on a boat between free territories. The case was dismissed on a rather bullshit clause that he didn’t provide a witness that he was the property of the lady who refused to accept his purchase of his freedom a couple of paragraphs ago.
Fuck Eliza Emerson, and fuck that judge.
Granted a new trial, and following delays in that trial, Scott and his family were found legally free.
In a total dick move, Eliza Emerson appealed to the Supreme Court of a state that she was no longer even a resident of and in 1852, the case was reversed – as was the “once free, always free” precedent – with a judge apparently hell-bent on preserving slavery in his state to keep freedmen from overthrowing the government, so Eliza did not lose slaves and money on this one.
I don’t even KNOW her and I hate her guts.
The next bitch move came when president-elect James Buchanan was questioned with how and when the case would be handled, and responded by pushing someone to change an opinion that might have seen this handled properly in a manner that would, in 2011 be at best bad business and at worst illegal.
At the end of it all, the court held up that as a slave, Dred Scott (but wait, wasn’t the prior case thrown out because no one presented a witness to SAY he was a slave?) was not a citizen of any state, but property – DAMN whether or not Missouri claimed him as one, since states do not have the power to naturalize a citizen – and therefore he would not be given the rights that citizens have, up to and including the ability to present a suit in a federal court.
Which is another passive-aggressive “sheeeeeit, we can’t really mess with this, you ain’t a citizen” way of washing their hands of the situation, rather than facing it and doing the right thing.
Speaking of doing the right thing, the sons of Scott’s first owner were allowed to purchase the freedom of him and his family a couple of months later and Scott remained as a local celeb as a hotel worker, but died of Tuberculosis the following year.
[Phlip note – ain’t that a BITCH?!!?]
On the whole, the case survives as an argument against substantive due process, where the judge reads things into the law that are not specifically implied, based upon the situation in front of him. The issue with this is where things SHOULD be black and white (as in on paper, not skin color as this case happened to be), opinion is the deciding factor and usually the opinion comes out in statements, see:
"Times are not now as they were when the former decisions on this subject were made. Since then not only individuals but States have been possessed with a dark and fell spirit in relation to slavery, whose gratification is sought in the pursuit of measures, whose inevitable consequences must be the overthrow and destruction of our government. Under such circumstances it does not behoove the State of Missouri to show the least countenance to any measure which might gratify this spirit. She is willing to assume her full responsibility for the existence of slavery within her limits, nor does she seek to share or divide it with others."
I am not sure whether to take the Dred Scott CASE itself as a positive or negative, as the only ones worth thanking here are the ones who eventually bought his freedom, but the fact remains that it is one worth familiarizing yourself with and knowing the “why” as well as the “what.”