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How the Supreme Court fractured the nation over slavery — and how it threatens to do so again

The midterm elections made one thing clear: There is a growing sectional divide in this country. The red-state-blue-state paradigm, a defining feature of our contemporary politics, has shifted in recent years, falling increasingly along regional lines, as the coasts shift to the left and the middle of the country moves right.

There is one issue that more than any other captures this political and cultural divide between Red and Blue America: abortion. With the new associate justice, Brett M. Kavanaugh, now in place, the question emerges: Will the Supreme Court upend the most controversial issue of our era?

It has done something very similar before. In 1857, the Supreme Court overturned a principle of constitutional interpretation that three generations of Americans had considered settled law. The decision involved slavery, the most contested issue of that era, and it triggered a political earthquake that culminated in the Civil War. In doing so, it raised profound questions about the power of the court in American democracy.

The case was brought by a slave named Dred Scott, who had been taken by his master into territory declared free by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. That compromise was built on a principle dating to the 1780s, affirming that Congress possessed the authority to ban slavery from federal territories. While states decided the issue of slavery for themselves, before statehood, Congress was the arbiter.

Scott lost his case. The Supreme Court ruled that Scott lacked standing to bring a suit, because he was a black man and, therefore, not a citizen in the required sense of the law. This part of the decision outraged advocates of racial equality. But it was the second part that caused even greater furor, provoking events that culminated in war. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post