What questions did the Supreme Court address in the Dred Scott case? 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Scholars who study the Supreme Court and its workings criticize Chief Justice Taney in this case because he addressed more questions than he needed to.  The Supreme Court is generally well-advised to rule on the narrowest possible grounds.  In this case, the Court completely ignored this idea and answered questions that it did not need to answer.

The first question that the Court answered was whether Scott had any standing to sue. The Court ruled that Scott did not.  It ruled that African Americans were not citizens in the eyes of the Constitution.  The Framers had not intended blacks to have the same rights as whites and therefore Scott had no standing to sue.

The Court could have stopped there and rejected Scott’s suit on these relatively narrow grounds.  Instead, it addressed two more questions.  First, it addressed the idea that a slave became free when brought to a free state or territory.  It rejected this argument.  Second, and much more importantly, the Court addressed the issue of whether Congress could regulate slavery in the territories.  It concluded that such regulations violated the Fifth Amendment because they deprived people of their property (slaves) without due process of law.  By saying this, the Court struck down the Missouri Compromise and helped bring the Civil War about.

Thus, the Court addressed three questions in this case instead of addressing only one.

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