Itís not the 4th of July, but Iím having flashbacks to two century-old Supreme Court cases involving liberty: Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott.
Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom on the grounds he moved from a state that chartered slavery to federal territory that didnít recognize slavery as a legal institution, and did recognize a number of citizenship rights for blacks including marriage. Therefore as a resident in a free land with no provision for slavery, he should be free. The Supreme Courtís decision, by seven to two, abrogated his right, but also statesí rights. When it came to slavery, the court ruled the slave had no standing to bring a legal case against his or her status. The court also firmly declared slaves were property, chattel, having ďno rights any white man was bound to respect.Ē Despite state laws, a slave transported to Massachusetts remained in bondage.
The Dred Scott decision was only the second time an act passed by Congress was ruled unconstitutional. Chief Justice Roger Taneyís written decision struck down the Missouri Compromise, passed in 1820, which limited the expansion of slavery into federal territories.
The 14th Amendment removed Dred Scott as a legal precedent, but it remains important in history, as example of how US law is interpreted and rights altered through the institutions of the courts, states, and federal government. For often, law is about ends and means, what it affirms and what it denies...