Justice Denied, pt. 2

Program 188 • 29 mins


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It’s often described as the worst decision ever handed down by the U-S Supreme Court. It was the only time in American history when a justice resigned from the Court in apparent disgust at a ruling by his colleagues. It prompted numerous proposals that the Supreme Court be abolished. And it greatly inflamed America in the tense period leading up to the Civil War.

In this documentary, we look in-depth at the most controversial ruling in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court—the Dred Scott case. In that decision, the Chief Justice ruled that black people have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Shortly afterward, a fellow justice resigned in disgust from the Supreme Court. We hear the whole amazing saga in a lengthy dialogue with Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor of history at Columbia University. We examine how these cases aggravated national tensions before the Civil War, stirred up abolitionist sentiment and harmed the legitimacy of the courts.

Abraham LincolnI think by the end of his life Lincoln had certainly accepted the idea of black citizenship. In fact, in 1862 his Attorney General, Edward Bates, issues a ruling basically saying: The Supreme Court was wrong. Free black people—not slaves—are citizens. Absolutely, we’re going to recognize all free black people as citizens of the United States. And the Supreme Court just made a big mistake there, and we don’t have to listen to it.”

—Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Columbia University historian


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