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Legal Analysis

Black History Shows Us When Opinions Are Long…

By February 6, 2019No Comments
Dred Scott
Dred Scott. Oil on canvas by Louis Schultze, 1888. Acc. # 1897.9.1. Missouri Historical Society Museum Collections. Photograph by David Schultz, 1999. NS 23864. Photograph and scan (c) 1999-2006, Missouri Historical Society.

Honoring Black History Month by reflecting on cases and legal actions that affect and effected Black America is consonant with being an African-American attorney and would benefit other non-African-American, attorneys, as well. So, this year’s sojourn begins with one of, if not the most, infamous case in the annals of SCOTUS jurisprudence, Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 19 (1856). Reading Dred Scott, I am reminded of something lawyers often give a nod to: When a court wants to come to a decision, where the law, public policy, or common, moral decency suggests an opposite decision or a decision, generally, the Opinions are long.* For example, Dred Scott is more than 160 pages (including dissents and footnotes) if you read it on a regular True-Type font at 11 points.

*Sometimes, the Opinion’s author agrees with the minority but for other reasons, will side with the majority, which also results in a lengthy, legalesy, treatise.

How J. Taney wanted to be right in presenting the answer “no” to the following issue: “whether the descendants of such slaves, when they shall be emancipated, or who are born of parents who had become free before their birth, are citizens of a State in the sense in which the word “citizen” is used in the Constitution of the United States,” and thus, the length of his Opinion.

Query: If the right to vote is a hallmark of citizenry, how long was Shelby County v. Holder, decided in 2013?

Answer: Sixteen pages; just consider Shelby County an end note to Dred Scott.

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