On prominent display at the Supreme Court is its darkest hour.
Encased in glass at the high court is the judicial robe worn by Chief Justice — and former Maryland Attorney General — Roger B. Taney, who wrote the 1857 opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford that blacks are not U.S. citizens and therefore a slave had no standing to sue for his freedom.
The robe, on loan from the Historical Society of Frederick County, Md., is part of an exhibition, “In War and In Peace: The Supreme Court and the Civil War.” The display states the Dred Scott decision “pushed the nation closer to Civil War.”
The exhibition mentions other Civil War era decisions, including Ex Parte Vallandingham, in which the Supreme Court held it had no jurisdiction over appeals from military tribunals, and The Prize Cases of 1863, in which the high court defined the battle between North and South as a civil rebellion of high magnitude, not a war.
The display also credits Taney, historically scorned for his opinion in Dred Scott, with having ruled in Ex Parte Merryman in 1861 that President Abraham Lincoln lacked the authority to suspend the writ of habeus corpus even during wartime.