The Supreme Court held that an amendment to the Mississippi state constitution that banned bringing slaves into the state for sale was not valid in the absence of legislation to enforce it, but the majority could not agree on the constitutional issues of the case.
The state of Mississippi added a constitutional prohibition against the importing of slaves into the state for sale in 1832 but did not enact any legislation to enforce the amendment. A seller of slaves argued that the prohibition was void because it conflicted with federal authority over interstate commerce. The Supreme Court, in a 5-2 majority decision, held that the amendment to the Mississippi constitution was not binding because it was not implemented by legislation. By ruling that the amendment was not self-executing, the Court did not resolve the explosive issue of whether the federal government or the states had control over the slave trade. In concurring opinions, Justice John McLean of Ohio wrote that the federal government had jurisdiction over slaves transported in interstate commerce, and Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney insisted that states had control of all questions relating to slavery and African Americans. The deep divisions on the Court reflected the growing sectional controversy in the country.
Commerce, regulation of
States’ rights and state sovereignty