Robert Magee, Former Managing Editor of the Fireplace Blog
Panel Two was entitled The Lawyer Presidents: Lincoln, Obama, and the Rule of Law. It featured three speakers, each of whom strove to connect the lessons of Lincoln’s Presidency to the problems faced by the Obama Administration. The first was Dr. Timothy Huebner, Associate Professor of History at Rhodes College, the second was Dr. Thomas C. Mackey, Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, and the third was Anthony Paul Farley, the James Campbell Matthews Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Albany Law School.
Dr. Huebner’s talk was entitled The Supreme Court and the Presidency: Lincoln/Taney and Obama/Roberts. In it he outlined the revolution in America’s understanding of the Constitution that Lincoln represented. Symbolically, it was a revolution against the constitutional view Chief Justice Taney represented when he swore in President Lincoln in March of 1864. Dr. Huebner began by noting that the swearing in of President Obama was the first in which a Chief Justice swore in someone who had voted against his appointment to the Supreme Court. As we all remember, this was an awkward moment.
This awkwardness was nothing compared, Dr. Huber noted, to Chief Justice Taney’s swearing in of Lincoln. Taney had spent his career as both a politician and a judge promoting a Jacksonian constitutional understanding, an understanding typified in his opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford. It was a view that considered individual liberty and political power to be inherently opposed to one another. It was a view which generally opposed centralization of power and which viewed the right to own property as the cornerstone of individual freedom. Thus, Chief Justice Taney held in Dred Scott that a slaveholder’s individual right to own and use his property trumped federal prohibitions against the spread of slavery in the territories. Dr. Huebner stressed that Taney’s holding that the Constitution had been written by the Founders on the understanding that slaves were to be property and not citizens was not the crucial concern of Taney’s, no matter how essential it was to its logic. It was this idea of individual liberty which informed Taney’s jurisprudence and which led him to conclude that government’s role under the Constitution was a limited one. In Dred Scott Taney had memorialized his most fundamental political inclinations and, in doing so, brought constitutional jurisprudence to the head of a movement that began under Jackson in the 1830s. Continue reading “Panel 2 The Lawyer Presidents: Lincoln, Obama & the Rule of Law”