Justice Roger B. Taney, whose full name was Roger Brooke Taney, served as the fifth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1836 until his death in 1864. Born on March 17, 1777, in Calvert County, Maryland, Taney had a long and influential career in law and politics. During his tenure as Chief Justice, Taney presided over numerous important cases that shaped the legal landscape of the United States. However, his most notable and controversial decision was in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857.
In the Dred Scott case, Taney delivered the majority opinion of the Court, which ruled against Dred Scott, an enslaved African American man seeking his freedom. The decision held that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, were not and could not be citizens of the United States. Furthermore, it declared that Congress did not possess the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories, thereby invalidating the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Taney’s opinion in the Dred Scott case is widely criticized for its pro-slavery stance and its contribution to the deepening divisions between the North and South that ultimately led to the American Civil War. It remains one of the most notorious decisions in Supreme Court history.
Outside of the Dred Scott case, Taney’s tenure on the Supreme Court saw various other significant rulings and legal contributions. However, his legacy is often overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the Dred Scott decision and his support for the institution of slavery.