Photo above: A statue of Roger B. Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision, was removed from the Maryland State House on Aug. 18, 2017. Another Taney statue was removed from a Baltimore public park about the same time.
Until Friday, when the Supremes’ decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was officially made public, everyone from legal scholars to bartenders considered the Dred Scott decision of 1857 to be the worst in the court’s history. And they undoubtedly still do. (As a commenter on this blog notes: The Korematsu case upholding Japanese-American internment during World War II could easily contend for worst.)
In Dred Scott, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (next to Spiro Agnew, Maryland’s most notorious native son) ruled that Blacks could not be citizens because, at the nation’s founding, they were considered inferior to whites and, therefore, “they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” Taney’s racist opinion was a key factor leading to the outbreak of the Civil War four years later.
Now we have Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Thomas-Alito Court’s (you can’t really justify calling it the Roberts Court anymore) ruling that the Constitution guarantees no right to abortion, thus overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The ruling reduces women to second class status and accords to the states power over women’s bodies. It also dismisses the concept of precedent and makes liars of at least three justices who said they considered Roe to be settled law. It also gives the finger to the majority of Americans who believe that women should have the right to choose, within limits, to have an abortion — and it further diminishes the court’s credibility with the public. (According to recent polling, Americans’ opinion of the Supreme Court is at an all-time low.)
So, while Dred Scott remains the worst decision ever, Dobbs is right there with it.
By the way, Clarence Thomas, the extremist conservative justice who authored the court’s earlier decision striking down New York’s (and, by inference, Maryland’s) long-standing gun law against concealed carry, cited the Dred Scott decision in his opinion. Imagine that: The court’s only Black member — the regressionist who replaced Thurgood Marshall, a giant of civil rights — draws support for his ruling from the historically horrible opinion by Roger B. Taney. A friend in New York noted that and said: “Thomas should gag at the mention of Taney’s name.” Instead, he probably thinks Taney got a bum rap.
Final note: The only way to save our country from the march of fascism is at the polls. We have to vote out of office every last supporter of Trumpism, increase Democratic representation in the Senate and House, and I now believe the Supreme Court needs to be expanded from nine to 13 justices — one representing each federal appellate court in the country.
My Sunday column is about the Jan. 6 insurrection investigation, leading with a call for Americans to help out at the polls in the coming elections. Election judges are needed everywhere, and in Maryland at least, you can be but 16 years old and work for the local elections board during July’s primary and November’s general election.