In March 1857, the United States Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856) issued a 7–2 decision against Dred Scott.
Dred Scott was born into slavery in Virginia around 1799. He sued for his freedom after his owners moved from Missouri a “slave state” where slavery was legal, to the “free state” of Illinois, claiming that since slavery was not legal in Illinois, he should thus be made a free man.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, the Court ruled: “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a “citizen” within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.” Justia U.S. Law
The Court ruled that since he was not a citizen, he could not benefit from the laws of citizenship and thus could not be a free man.
If anyone is wondering about the power of the United States Supreme Court and what impact it can have, please think about the “Dred Scott Decision” for a while. Discuss Dred Scott with your children, and your co-workers – if you can do so without crying.
While our country has much to be proud of, there is also much that we should be ashamed of. The “Dred Scott Decision” stands as a stark example of how an interpretation of the law by a majority of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices, can have far-reaching impacts.
Four years after this decision the Civil War broke out. After the Union’s victory in 1865, the Court’s rulings in Dred Scott were voided by the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution which abolished slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship for “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Wikipedia
The right to privacy is not mentioned in the Constitution. The right to healthcare is not discussed in the Constitution either. A woman’s right to make decisions over her own health and reproductive rights are also not expressly protected in the Constitution. The list of “rights” that most of us take for granted is long, and all are subject to interpretation by the nine justices who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Only five votes are needed to either expand, maintain, or possibly take away our health care, take away our personal privacy, and take away a woman’s right to choose.
This is why the appointment of a new Justice is so important. This is a lifetime appointment. The current Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is 48 years old could potentially shape future court decisions and our lives, for the next 50 years.
We need to get this right. To be clear, this is not about how great a student she was in college, nor about how brilliant she is as a legal scholar. What matters the most are her core values and the lens through which she looks at the world. The interpretation of law is not science or math where the total of a column will always be the same, regardless of who is doing the counting.
Laws are subject to interpretation which is why Justices write OPINIONS. The meaning of the words upon which the law is based are always subject to interpretation. Each of us has a slightly different world view depending on our life experiences. None of us are free of some sort of inherent bias that impacts every decision and every choice we make.
While people loath raising the question of religion when evaluating the suitability of Judge Barrett to an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, her personal world view is without question shaped in large part, by her faith. Regardless of which particular religion it may be, a devout follower is hard-pressed to simply shunt aside the teachings of their God. This is not a judgment of the character of Amy Barrett, but merely a statement of fact.
Yes, some in leadership positions who consider themselves devout in their faith, are able to set aside the teachings and values of their faith and make decisions based on the law. But this is certainly a legitimate area of discussion when evaluating her suitability for a lifetime appointment the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Is Amy Coney Barrett able to do this?
For Judge Barrett or her supporters to say that her decisions will be based only upon the law as it’s written, is disingenuous. Each Justice views the same law, looks at the same facts, and hears the same arguments. But yet there are almost always differences of opinion among the Justices who come to different conclusions, ultimately settled via majority rule.
The American people are in the midst of choosing their President. Millions of votes have already been cast. This appointment is being rushed through the process because the President and his enablers in the U.S. Senate do not trust the vote of the American people.
For if they did trust us, they would wait another 18 days to at least hear what we have to say.
*First published in The Garden Island Newspaper, Hooser Policy and Politics – 10/15/20