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Supreme Court Developments
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Click on a date to learn more about Supreme Court developments during a specific time period.
1787 1794 1810 1833 1857 1866 1874 1883 1896 1910 1918 1930 1935 1941 1954 1963 1966 1973 1981 1989 1995 2000 2005
Prelude to War
The Court issues its infamous decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford. Writing for a 7-2 majority, Chief Justice Roger Taney rules against Scott -- a slave who had sued for his freedom after spending time in a free state and in a free territory (made free by the Missouri Compromise of 1820). The decision states that African Americans are not, and can never be, citizens of the United States and are therefore not entitled to sue in federal court. In invalidating the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which had already been repealed by Congress) the Court holds that the Constitution protects property in slaves and that, accordingly, Congress has no power to regulate slavery in the new territories.

The Court moves out of its room in the basement of the Capitol and into the old Senate Chamber of the same building, where it remains until moving into its present building in 1935.

An abolitionist poster advertising a meeting to discuss the Court's holding in Scott v. Sandford.
An abolitionist poster illustrates the political reaction of abolitionsits to the Court's infamous 1857 decision in Scott v. Sandford, which held that blacks could not be U.S. citizens.

Reproduction courtesy of Lincoln University of Pennsylvania
Justice John A. Campbell resigns from the Court to join the Confederate government. After the Civil War, Campbell will become a powerful corporate attorney, returning to the Court's chambers to argue for the plaintiffs in the Slaughterhouse Cases.

In 1863, the Republican Congress expands the Supreme Court from nine to 10 justices, thus allowing President Abraham Lincoln to make additional appointments. In 1867, political antagonism with President Andrew Johnson prompts Congress to reduce the number of justices to eight, thereby preventing Johnson from making any new appointments. After Johnson's death in 1869, Congress returns the Court to nine justices, the number it has held ever since.

Chief Justice Taney dies. President Lincoln appoints Salmon P. Chase, a former abolitionist, as Chief Justice.

The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, is ratified.