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Dred Scott case descendants to speak at panel on bias.

Byline: Nicholas Phillips

A century and a half ago this month, African Americans became U.S. citizens.<br />On July 28, 1868, the requisite number of states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby overturning the infamous Dred Scott decision that had denied black rights a decade earlier.<br />Yet if racial bias has survived to this day as much scientific research suggests how can judges and juries counteract it in the courtroom?<br />That's the central question to be explored in a July 16 Symposium on Reconciliation and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts at Logan University, 1851 Schoettler Road, Chesterfield. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and allow members of the bar to earn three continuing-legal-education credits.<br />The National Judicial College sponsored and organized the symposium, which will feature a morning panel discussion in which descendants of the major players in the Dred Scott case will speak on the significance of that case in society and their own lives.<br />Those panelists include Lynne Jackson, great-great-granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott; Kate Taney Billingsley, descendant of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger P. Taney, who authored the Dred Scott decision; John LeBourgeois, descendant of Peter Blow, one of Scott's owners; Shannon LaNier, descendant of slave-holding President Thomas Jefferson; and Bertram Hayes-Davis, descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.<br />"If you say 'Dred Scott' to people, they know that name, but if you ask them a lot of questions, they don't have a lot of answers," said Jackson, who is the founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation. "I want people to get the rest of the story."<br />The St. Louis slaves Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom in 1846. They had lived for a time in a free state, and thus they cited the then-recognized legal doctrine of "once free, always free." A jury of 12 white men (including slaveholders) found for the Scotts at the Old Courthouse downtown, but the owner-plaintiffs appealed and the Missouri Supreme Court reversed. The Scotts then tried a federal lawsuit, which landed at the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court found in March 1857 that the U.S. Constitution protected slaves as a form of property and that even free blacks could not be citizens. Months later, the Scotts were freed by their owners.<br />The panel discussion will be moderated by Emily Pitts, principal and director of diversity at Edward Jones, St. Louis County Associate Circuit Judge Judy Draper and St. Louis County Circuit Judge Stanley J. Wallach.<br />The symposium is not this panel's first public engagement. Last August, Jackson gathered the panelists for a discussion at the Missouri History Museum. She calls the group Sons & Daughters of Reconciliation.<br />"We're showing how all our families are able to knit our histories together and have an understanding as we work for reconciliation," Jackson said.<br />One of the attendees at that event was Judge Draper. As the daughter of an African-American father and a Korean mother, Draper said she was fascinated by the panelists' insights. She convinced the group to convene again this year under the auspices of the National Judicial College to explain the origin of contemporary courtroom problems.<br />"You can't have reconciliation without understanding what is being reconciled," said Draper. "It's difficult because people don't want to go back there. But you can't move forward until you recognize the past."<br />In the afternoon seminar, which counts for three CLE credits, judges and attorneys will break into groups to explore the concept of unconscious bias and whether procedures could be adopted such as jury instructions to mitigate its effects, according to National Judicial College President Benes Aldana.<br />"We hope the judges come away with not only an appreciation of the issues but also some practical solutions that will instill more confidence in the courts," said Aldana. "It's really important that at the end of the day, participants and the public think the process is fair."<br />The event is co-sponsored by Jackson's foundation, the American Judges Association, the National Center for State Courts, the National Association for Presiding Judges and Court Executive Officers, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, the American College of Trial Lawyers, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, Logan University, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee21st Judicial Circuit and Thompson Coburn.

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Publication:Missouri Lawyers Media
Date:Jul 16, 2018
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