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 US Supreme Court. It was the only time in American history when a justice resigned from the Court over 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 audio documentary, we look in-depth at the Court’s controversial — some would say outrageous — ruling in the case of Dred Scott (pictured at R). In that decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney (L) declared that black people have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Shortly afterward, Associate Justice Benjamin Curtis stepped down from the Supreme Court in apparent disgust. 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 court cases denying the rights of African Americans aggravated national tensions before the Civil War, stirred up abolitionist sentiment and stained 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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