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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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