Attorney Sidebar: The Dangers of Making Rulings Based on Political Means and not Constitutional Rule of Law

~ Justice Benjamin Curtis, Dissent in Dred Scott v. Sanford

Political reasons have not the requisite certainty to afford rules of juridical [60 U.S. 393, 621] interpretation. They are different in different men. They are different in the same men at different times. And when a strict interpretation of the Constitution, according to the fixed rules which govern the interpretation of laws, is abandoned, and the theoretical opinions of individuals are allowed to control its meaning, we have no longer a Constitution; we are under the government of individual men, who for the time being have power to declare what the Constitution is, according to their own views of what it ought to mean.

~ Justice Benjamin Curtis, Dissent in Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 US 393, 620-21 (1857).  See,

If anyone needs a reminder the dangers that can happen when our Constitution and laws are bent to the whims of partisan expedience, or the ends justify the means, or when morality and common sense take a back seat to sophistry, then the Dred Scott decision making slavery an near Constitutional right and human beings less than property.  A civil war with the distrust persisting today.

This should be a reminder that the rule of law and equal justice for all should be applied.  In days of political turbulence such as these, I would submit they provide a clearer path to what must be done rather than blind passions and wants.  Justice Curtis’s rule of interpreting the Constitutions is that we are nation of laws, and that our guiding principle in applying that law is that we follow the rule of law and not the rule of men.

Yes, Justice Harlan’s dissent is more to the point and more biting, but Justice Curtis shows us that the path reached by the majority was a bad path with Justice Marshall point to the better end.  Gut feelings and feel good rulings are not a path to justice but a shortcut to chaos and loss of respect for our systems.