In this podcast episode, we discuss Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), widely considered to be the worst decision ever issued by the United States Supreme Court.
Dred Scott, a slave, sued for his freedom on grounds that he had resided in the free state of Illinois and the territory of Wisconsin, thereby making him a free man.
In a 7-2 decision authored by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court held that, as a descendant of slaves imported to the United States from Africa, Scott was not (and had never been) a United States citizen. Accordingly, he was considered property, and had no ground to bring a claim in federal court.
The decision further struck down the Missouri Compromise Act of 1820, which had previously outlawed slavery in all future states north of the southern border of Missouri.
In the stroke of a pen, the Supreme Court inflamed the already-explosive debate over slavery and precipitated the Civil War.