What’s with Christian conservatives and the Dred Scott decision? An explainer.
Fundamentalists like Mike Huckabee love name-dropping Dred Scott v Sanford every chance they get, so you’d think that they’d actually bother to learn something about it before spouting off, but no.
Huckabee appeared on conservative radio host Michael Medved’s show to defend Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who went to jail for contempt of court after refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The former governor compared the Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize same sex marriage to the Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery.
“Michael, the Dred Scott decision of 1857 still remains to this day the law of the land which says that black people aren’t fully human,” he told the radio host. “Does anybody still follow the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision?”
Actually, as anyone who spends two seconds reading the history of this decision will tell you, it was actually overturned by amending the Constitution. The 14th amendment specifically delineated citizenship flows to any person who is born in the U.S. for the very purpose of granting full citizenship rights to African-Americans.
Of course, Huckabee’s always lying about the text of the 14th amendment, claiming that it says something about when your poppa ejaculated, and not, as it does, when your mother actually gave birth to you. Such is the power of denying women have any importance or agency in the world, that it literally will distort the word “born” so that it reads like “conceived” to his eyes. But I digress.
Is Huckabee really so daft as to not know this? Nah, he probably knew it. He’s just a “good Christian”, so that means he lies and lies and lies and lies and lies. I suspect he’s worried that he might have a seizure he ever actually deigns to tell the truth. If he tells you that it’s raining outside, feel safe to leave your umbrella at home. The man is on a lifelong mission to gaslight the world. I know this, because the host actually corrected him on this, and he just switched off to railing about the “Supreme Court in the same-sex marriage decision made a law and they made it up out of thin air.”
Another lie. They did not make it up out of thin air. The decision was decided on the basis of, wait for it, the 14th amendment that grants equal protection of the law to all citizens. So that’s Huckabee for you: Claiming embryos are citizens but gay people are not. So who’s trying to make law by fiat based on your personal whims again?
The constant referencing of Dred Scott probably seems strange, because it’s an old decision and was about slavery and race and not any of the issues that conservatives bring it up over these days, namely abortion and now gay marriage. You might wonder why they single out that decision as the bad decision they falsely claim that Roe or Obergefell is, and not, say, Buck v Bell, a more recent notorious bad decision, one that actually has something to do with reproduction, unlike Dred Scott.
Well, it all goes back to the power of projection. Just as conservatives like to claim that MLK would have been a conservative or whatever other offensive shit they’re spouting about now, this is about trying to do something that’s got its historical roots in racism while deflecting guilt over it by insinuating that liberals are the real racists. It’s a little complex, but hear me out.
The anti-choice and now anti-gay strategy has its roots in the pro-segregation strategies that cropped up in the 20th century when the courts started breaking for the liberal side and against the wishes of segregationists. Through court orders and eventually the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all sorts of public spaces were desegregated: Schools, public pools and parks, transportation, and eventually private businesses that serve the public. But white people fought back by creating legal workarounds, often enacted on a local scale, to keep black people from sharing community resources. A lot of it was centered around housing policy, which is an incredibly complex topic and which you should read Ta-Nehisi Coates on. Slowly but surely, a country that had once been publicly oriented became a country of gated communities and private pools and private schools and suburban spread. This was a direct result of this complex series of actions that were all pointing to the same goal: Defy the Supreme Court and the CRA and keep America segregated anyway.
Needless to say, the effectiveness of that is one major reason it’s become a go-to strategy for conservatives who want to destroy social progress. They did the same thing with abortion access. As segregation was rebuilt with intricate and complex housing policies that were ostensibly colorblind but geared towards segregation, increasing amounts of red tape were laid on abortion clinics and patients that were supposedly not an assault on Roe but were there to undermine abortion access. It’s a strategy that was borne of racism and continues to bear its marks, even when it morphs into other cultural war arenas. The attacks on black women’s access to reproductive health care are, after all, even more belligerent than on white women’s access.
And now they’re doing it on the gay marriage thing: Trying to create bureaucratic problems, legal workarounds, and leaning on privatizing schemes in an effort to make it impossible for gay people to access the legal rights they were promised.
And make no mistake, conservatives are aware of their own roots and know that they are using a strategy conceived in racism. And so what do they do every time they feel guilty about the racist impulses that move them? Point the finger at liberals, accuse them of being the “real racists” and claim that MLK would have totally had their back. Or, in this case, Dred Scott. The whole use of the Dred Scott case is to claim the mantle of human rights activists who totally would have opposed that decision if they were alive then (which no one, I think, actually believes), and imply that liberals are somehow opposing human rights when we stand up for them.
That is, incidentally, why they keep reaching for the Rosa Parks metaphor when it comes to Kim Davis. The correct historical analogue for her, of course, is George Wallace: Someone who tries to physically stop people from obtaining court-ordered rights. And conservatives know this. So they try to compare her to the person who is her opposite, as a deflection technique. As with most things in this country, it all goes back to race. And conservatives, who have a guilty conscience about their own thoughts when it comes to constructing the reactionary agenda, know it better than liberals, at least when it comes to this issue, which is why they reach for the “how dare you suggest I’m a racist?!” card when the accusation isn’t even being made, because most liberals don’t, understandably, see what race has to do with any of this. But if you look at the history, the answer is “a lot”.