The legacies of two former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justices with ties to Central Pennsylvania — Roger B. Taney and John Marshall — are under scrutiny today because of their connections to slavery. The US House of Representatives voted in June to replace a bust of Roger B. Taney with one honoring the first African American Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The Taney Court is remembered most for its 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, when they ruled that blacks were not citizens of the United States and Congress had no authority to prevent the spread of slavery into federal territories. Justice Taney was a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle.
Justice John Marshall served early in the nation’s history and is considered to be a framer of Constitutional law. He was also known to have owned hundreds of slaves in his lifetime; purchasing and auctioning some to pay off family debts. In conflict to his personal interests, the Marshall Court heard many cases involving then current slaves’ claims of freedom, which could have influenced his opinions. The Marshall in Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster is named for Justice Marshall.
Paul Finkelman, Ph.D., President of Gratz College and author of Supreme Injustice; Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court, appears on Smart Talk Thursday to reveal how slavery taints the legacy of both Justices.