The Dred Scott Podcast You Didn't Know You Needed

A good listen for those who want to know more about the infamous case.


Last month, a New Yorker article prompted discussion about the teaching of Dred Scott v. Sandford and other cases concerning slavery and racial subjugation in Constitutional Law classes.

The discussion of Dred Scott also prompted Anastasia Boden and Elizabeth Slattery at the "Dissed" podcast to produce an excellent episode on the case, "Your Obedient Servant, B.R. Curtis." The episode features historical background, key opinion excerpts, and commentary from Jeffrey Rosen, Mark Graber, Earl Maltz, Tim Huebner. It is a tremendous resource for those who want to know more about the case and all it got wrong.

For what it's worth, I am firmly in the camp that Dred Scott should be taught and have always taught Dred Scott as part of the basic Constitutional Law class, though it can be hard to do justice to the case's importance in a the time allowed. The entire case, including the essential dissenting opinions, is monstrously long. Should I be teaching Constitutional Law again, I will definitely include this podcast episode as supplemental material.

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  1. This case is usually covered up by the toxic lawyer profession. It was the first expression of judicial review from Marbury v Madison. It thus violated Article 1 Section 1 giving all lawmaking powers to the Congress. that will never be mentioned in any law school class.

    It violated a ratified international treaty about the border boundaries with Canada, prohibiting the spread of slavery to other states. It overturned the Somerset decision of 1772, freeing a captured black slave in America, with strong language about the odiousness of the practice. It overturned the Missouri Compromise that prevented war for 30 years. It set off the civil War.

    The lawyer may say, unfair to apply the values of today. They were also the values of 1857. It killed 600000 Americans, like 3 million people today. It set back race relations 100 years to be solved in the late 20th Century.

    Good job, lawyers, of not reading the plain English of the constitution and of tearing our nation apart.

  2. The law school coverage of Dred Scott is similar to the coverage of World War II in Japanese high school history books, light.

    1. One can recommend the podcast to High School AP American History students. It cannot be recommended to law students.

      It fails to address the following lawyer profession problems. The enumeration of these problems is relevant today, and makes the case important today.

      1) The lawyer cannot read the plain high school English of the constitution, like that of Article I Section 1;

      2) the Supreme Court is not qualified, set up, nor accountable for making the national policies it has been making:

      3) its decisions are expressions of feelings, biases, and self interests, and have no external validation whatsoever. These stupidest of them can always be couched in legal language and justified. They are outrageous;

      4) the decisions are evasions of the duties and responsibilities of Congress, to avoid politically damaging controversies, foist them off on lifetime appointees;

      5) this decision, among many others was ghoulishly, hideously catastrophic to the interests of the nation;

      6) the decision did not warrant an industrial style war of attrition, butchering thousands of peasants and working class Americans with no personal interest in the fight;

      7) it warranted arrests for insurrection, brief trials. The sole evidence would be the reading of the opinions, and summary executions of the Justices;

      8) their sponsors should have also been hunted, tried, and summarily executed. You cannot make mistakes of this magnitude and be allowed to live. Who were the oligarchs who put these Justices on the Court to protect their economic interest in slavery? Kill them all. Let the peasants go home and take care of their families.

      Law school professors can no more face these problems than one can stare at the self evident sun, filling everyone's vision. Face them you must if the lawyer profession is to ever reach escape velocity from it orbit of utter failure of every self stated goal of every law subject.

  3. Those dreadful abolitionists and their anti-choice, anti-diversity and inclusion, anti-secular religious fundamentalist abolitionism! Any rational thinker not brainwashed by theocracy immediately realized they couldn’t possibly have had any motive for their hateful rants other than to keep Southerners down and deprive them of their human rights by denying them access to the labor services they need to function as autonomous, self-directed beings. What possible legitimate secular purpose could this sort of judgmental self-righteous moral-mongering possibly serve? Call off your tired old ethics! Please! None of this “I do not love thee, Dr, Fell, the reason why I cannot tell.”

    The rhetoric of slavery reminds us how easy it is for zealous partisans of a position, especially self-interested ones, to believe that the only possible reason for opposing a position is animosity. John Calhoun & Co. firmly believed abolitionism was nothing but unadulterated hate, and characterized abolitionist literature as hate speech. We have to remember that they persuaded Congress to ban sending it through the mails as hate speech. The fact people could so firmly believe such things should give us some pause regarding current efforts to ban hate speech.

    And it should also make us less quick to assume that those who disagree with us are motivated by animosity.

  4. I've always thought it would be interesting to cover the case in a Civ Pro class just to explore the case in a way that takes it out of the political context of the Civil War. I think the case was badly decided on so many fronts, but law students would benefit from actually understanding the legal framework of the case. The case concerns both diversity jurisdiction (was Dred Scott a citizen for purposes of diversity) and choice of law/Federal Common Law (it was a pre-Erie case so the Court should not have deferred to Missouri's law regarding whether or not Dred Scott became free when he entered Illinois). I think by framing the case solely as an inciting incident for the Civil War or in the historic context of the Missouri Compromise causes people to superficially understand the case.

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