Overflow room added for School of Law's Feb. 18 Dred Scott program

Overflow room added for School of Law’s Feb. 18 Dred Scott program

An overflow room has been added at the University of St. Thomas School of Law to accommodate those interested in viewing a mock rehearing of arguments presented in the 1857 case Dred Scott vs. Sandford.

The rehearing will take place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, at the School of Law’s Frey Moot Courtroom in downtown Minneapolis. The rehearing is free and open to the public. Those planning to attend are asked to register by sending an e-mail to lawrsvp@stthomas.edu.

Because of the response, seating in the Frey Moot Courtroom no longer is available. However, a live video feed of the rehearing can be viewed in an overflow room at the School of Law, Room 244.

The Supreme Court’s decision often is cited as one of the worst in American history and blamed for inflaming the political divide over slavery which ultimately led to the Civil War. The court ruled that "[a] free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a 'citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States."

The rehearing is being held Feb. 18 in honor of Presidents’ Day and is co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Council on Social Justice and the St. Thomas School of Law.

School of Law Dean Thomas Mengler and Professors Charles Reid and Nekima Levy-Pounds will preside over the rehearing. Professors Robert Delahunty and Michael Paulsen will present the arguments of Scott, the slave, and Sandford, the family that owned Scott.

Scott v. Sandford centered around Dred Scott, the slave of a Missouri citizen, who traveled with his owner from the slave state of Missouri to the free state of Illinois and later to Fort Snelling in Minnesota.

Scott claimed that the Constitution required that he be considered a free man because of the time he spent in Illinois. The Sandford family argued that property rights in a slave could not be lost by merely crossing state borders. 

Although seven of the nine Supreme Court justices agreed that Scott had no rights under the Constitution, it was Chief Justice Roger Taney's assertion that blacks were “unfit to associate with the white race” and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” that generated furious debate both on the court and among the public in 1857. 

Pleased with the interest in the Feb. 18 event, Lawyers’ Council on Social Justice Chairperson Sonia Laird explained that it is important for law students to hear and examine legal arguments presented under the law of the time.

“The rehearing provides more than a cautionary moral tale regarding the devaluation of man. The rehearing presents an opportunity to challenge the legal community to engage in a dialogue and reflect about the foundations of American jurisprudence and what was allowed under our nation's most influential document, the Constitution of the United States,” Laird said.

Mengler said the rehearing does not celebrate the Dred Scott decision, but provides a teaching moment for students. As part of the event, Laird and Mengler will take the time to provide background on the trial, the historical context, and explain the relevant issues surrounding the 1857 decision.

In a statement about why the Lawyers’ Council on Social Justice is interested in the case, its Board of Directors stated, “How can we be vigorous advocates of change within the law without understanding the nuances of what has been allowed by the law?

“The Dred Scott rehearing provides such an opportunity and the Board of Directors of the Lawyers' Council on Social Justice would like to thank the St. Thomas School of Law administration, faculty, staff and students for affording the opportunity for this valuable learning experience of a legally relevant but morally bankrupt U.S. Supreme Court decision.”