In early March of 1857, the Roger B. Taney Supreme Court handed down its infamous ruling on the Scott v. Sandford case, also known as the Dred Scott decision. The Supremes decided 7-2 that African American slaves weren’t citizens of the United States and therefore didn’t enjoy any constitutional protections. Easily one of the most racist actions in the history of the federal government, the Court also ruled that slave owners were protected by the personal property clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Chief Justice Taney wrote: “[Dred Scott's petition] would give to persons of the negro race… the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased… to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”
The horror! “Beings of an inferior order” (Taney’s phrase) running around with, you know, freedom. In other words, the Court wouldn’t allow African Americans to enjoy the rights and privileges of being free, constitutionally-protected citizens.
Fast forward to yesterday, nearly 156 years to the day following the Dred Scott decision. The Court heard arguments in the Shelby County v. Holder case which challenges the Voting Rights Act, specifically Section 5 mandating that certain states attain “preclearance” or approval from the Justice Department before enacting new election laws. [continue reading here]