Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Dred Scott (Plaintiff), a slave, was taken by his former master from Missouri (a slave state) to Illinois (a free state), then to the Louisiana Territory (free territory) and then back to Missouri where he was sold to the Defendant, Sandford (Defendant). Plaintiff thereupon sued in federal court arguing that his trips to free territory made him free.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Blacks are not Citizens within the meaning of Article III of the United States Constitution (Constitution). A person cannot be dispossessed of his property merely because he takes his property into a particular territory consistent with Due Process.
Issue. Did the Circuit Court have Article III diversity jurisdiction over the case?
Was Dred Scott free?
Held. No and No.
Chief Justice Roger Taney (J. Taney) said Article III, Section: 2 of the Constitution provides that the Judicial Power shall extend to “all cases . . . between Citizens of different States.” The term “Citizens” describes the political body that makes up the sovereignty and holds the power in our republican form of government. But, at the time of the framing of the Constitution, blacks were considered inferior and subordinate to the dominate race. Therefore, blacks could not have been intended to be included in the “Citizens” in the Constitution. Therefore, the Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction over the case.
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution provides that a person shall not be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. An act of Congress that deprives a person of his property merely because it is brought into a particular territory, cannot be said to accord due process of law.
Discussion. It is pretty much unanimous that this case is at the nadir or lowest point of the Supreme Court of the United State’s case law. A few observations are as follows.
J. Taney seems to switch interpretive methodologies in the middle of his own opinion. He uses somewhat of a textualist approach in part one to find that Plaintiff was not a Citizen within the meaning of Article III of the Constitution. He then switches to a somewhat free-floating, moralistic, approach in part two in order to determine that Plaintiff cannot be free consistent with Due Process.
In part one of the opinion, in an effort to read the Constitution consistent with the framers intent, J. Taney holds that the term Citizens cannot include Blacks, because when the Framers used the language Citizens they did not consider Blacks as such. Alternatively, he could have assumed that the Framers meant what they wrote.
In part one of the opinion, J. Taney held that diversity jurisdiction did not exist for this case, thus, the case was not properly before the Federal Courts. Nevertheless, instead of just dismissing the case as the Supreme Court on his own reasoning should, J. Taney takes the opportunity in part two of the opinion to stress how unconstitutional it would be to dispossess Defendant of his slave.