The Knowledge of Justice in America


  • Julie J. Miller



In Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that the knowledge of justice in the United States belonged to those who “formed the sovereignty” in 1787. That thought captured a problem later perceived by James Baldwin and made stark by unrelenting attacks on the memory of Emmett Till from 2008 to 2018. Focusing attention precisely there is the purpose of this essay. Adopting a theory of popular sovereignty hewn to fix moral insight and political power together, the U.S. Constitution memorialized the people’s choice to deprive enslaved Black humanity not only of power but of moral authority in civic life. The essay reflects on the consequences of that founding choice while reimagining it, observing that the knowledge of justice lay with the enslaved.