A state Representative known to be a lightning rod on the issue of abortion is making a case to formally condemn a historical court decision.
Republican Mike Moon of Ash Grove is sponsoring a resolution not to denounce the 1973 Roe versus Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion, but one to condemn the landmark Dred Scott decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling from the Missouri high bench in 1852 denying Scott, a slave, freedom. The state Supreme Court’s decision reversed a St. Louis Circuit Court hand down in 1850 that granted him freedom.
Moon thinks the Missouri decision was a black eye for the state. “It’s just a reminder of how bad our court decisions can be,” said Moon. “It’s probably one of the biggest guffaws in Missouri history I think. And I think it would be agreed that it was at least a contributing factor to the civil war.”
Historians note the Dred Scott decision inflamed differences over slavery that ignited the American Civil War. Moon calls the resolution, which calls on members of the state House of Representatives with the Senate concurring to condemn the Dred Scott decision, a step in the right direction for closing old wounds.
“That’s important for us to admit wrongdoing,” Moon Said. “Even though we weren’t today complicit in that, our forefathers were. It would spur healing. I believe that’s much needed in our state.”
His resolution notes that the country’s tensions over racial equality have “played out in profound ways” in Missouri and that St. Louis’ location on the Mississippi River was “uniquely positioned to be a destination for the slave trade”.
It also mentions that slaves in Missouri who sued for their freedom routinely won before national unrest over the issue resulted in the Dred Scott decision at the state level.
Scott attempted numerous times to secure freedom for himself and his family in Missouri Courts. He sued his master’s widow for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived as a resident of a free state, Illinois, and a territory, Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
The Missouri Compromise granted Maine entrance into the Union as a free state while allowing Missouri permission to enter without restrictions on slavery, and included an amendment prohibiting slavery in the Louisiana Purchase territory north of latitude 36°30’.
According to archives from the Missouri Secretary of State website, Justice William Scott wrote the state Supreme Court majority opinion which denied freedom to Scott and his family.
In it, he did not deny that the Missouri Compromise’s ban on slavery was valid but felt it was only valid where it applied, which was not within the state of Missouri.
According to the archives, Justice Scott acknowledged the right of slaves to obtain their freedom when taken to free states or territories but advised that slavery status reattached upon return to a slave state.
The archives also notes that racist rhetoric contained in the brief filed by the attorney representing the widow of Dred Scott’s owner, was apparent in Scott’s opinion, specifically in his conclusion where he stated that slavery was the will of God.
Following the state Supreme Court decision, Dred Scott filed a suit in federal court that led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1857 denying him freedom. In doing so, the court rendered the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and said that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the territories.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Dred Scott outcome is considered the worst decision ever rendered by the Supreme Court among constitutional scholars, having been cited as the most egregious example of the court imposing a judicial solution on a political problem.
Representative Moon, being a vocal anti-abortion advocate, thinks the Dred Scot decision is similar to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe versus Wade ruling in that they’re both among the worst renderings ever from the high bench.
“I think it does add to the foundation that, I think has already been laid, that ya, the court has made some bad decisions,” said Moon. “They have been corrected and should be corrected if they continue to be out there and proven wrong.”
The 1868 Fourteenth Amendment overturned the Dred Scott decision by granting citizenship to all those born in the United States, regardless of color. The amendment was ratified by Congress.
Dred Scott is buried at a cemetery in St. Louis.
Moon’s resolution is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in a House committee. It faces an uphill battle to be enacted with less than a month left in the current legislative session that ends May 18th.