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Students, attorneys learn about historic Dred Scott case

IL Staff
February 28, 2012
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A U.S. Supreme Court decision from 155 years ago that helped ignite the Civil War came to life again Tuesday in the Indiana Supreme Court and a nearby university as part of a Black History Month observation to teach students and attorneys about the importance of the Dred Scott decision on constitutional rights.

The state Supreme Court and Office of the Indiana Attorney General hosted the program for students from five Indianapolis area high schools, exploring the legal and cultural aspects of the 1857 decision from the Supreme Court of the United States.

An African-American man held in slavery in the 1850s, Dred Scott sued to gain his freedom and took his case all the way to the nation’s highest court. Though a lower court had freed Scott from slavery, the SCOTUS denied Scott and other enslaved persons their legal rights, resulting in Scott being enslaved again. Though Scott and his wife, Harriett, eventually were freed, he did not live to see the political outcome of the 7-2 Supreme Court ruling. Now considered a pivotal turning point in American history, the Dred Scott decision led to the political rise of Abraham Lincoln, secession of the slaveholding Southern states, outbreak of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, abolition of slavery nationwide, and the passage of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At Tuesday’s presentation in the Indiana Supreme Court chamber, speakers included Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who wrote the book “Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story,” and Dred Scott’s great-great granddaughter Lynne M. Jackson.  Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller attended Shurtleff’s presentation on the Dred Scott decision a few years ago in the old SCOTUS chamber of the U.S. Capitol, and Zoeller was so impressed he asked Shurtleff to present it to Indiana students and attorneys.

Shurtleff described the legal and historical ramifications of the decision, while Jackson provided the family perspective of her famous ancestor who fought for his freedom in the courts and lost but inspired the antislavery Abolitionist movement. Students from Arsenal Tech, Covenant Christian, Lawrence North, Plainfield and Silver Creek high schools read aloud excerpts from the decision.

“Behind the historic cases lawyers study are real people who faced real hardships. The Dred Scott decision called into question the basic American notion of equality and today it reminds us that the system of justice is imperfect. Though it took the pain and suffering of the Civil War, justice eventually prevailed to right a wrong, and that’s something students today should understand,” Zoeller said.

On Tuesday afternoon at Martin University in Indianapolis, Shurleff and Jackson presented a Continuing Legal Education session to attorneys, focusing on legal analysis of the decision and its impact. Zoeller served as moderator of that program.

The day’s programs are also sponsored by the Indiana Bar Foundation, Martin University and the Indiana Supreme Court Legal History Lecture Series with support from the Indiana Commission on Continuing Legal Education. The student event is also sponsored by the Indiana Supreme Court’s “Courts in the Classroom” program.
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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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