Roger Brooke Taney ( TAW-nee; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864.
He delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v.
Sandford (1857), ruling that African Americans could not be considered citizens and that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories of the United States.
Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Taney served as the United States Attorney General and United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson.
Taney was born into a wealthy, slave-owning family in Calvert County, Maryland.
He won election to the Maryland House of Delegates as a member of the Federalist Party, but later broke with the party over the War of 1812.
After switching to the Democratic Party, Taney was elected to the Maryland Senate in 1816.
He emerged as one of the most prominent attorneys in the state and was appointed as the Attorney General of Maryland in 1827.
Taney supported Andrew Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1824 and 1828, and he became a member of Jackson's Democratic Party.
After a cabinet shake-up in 1831, President Jackson appointed Taney as his attorney general.
Taney became one of the most important members of Jackson's cabinet and played a major role in the Bank War.
Beginning in 1833, Taney served as secretary of the treasury under a recess appointment, but his nomination to that position was rejected by the United States Senate.
In 1835, after Democrats took control of the Senate, Jackson appointed Taney to succeed John Marshall on the Supreme Court as Chief Justice.
Taney would preside over a jurisprudential shift toward states' rights, but the Taney Court did not reject federal authority to the degree that many of Taney's critics had feared.
By the early 1850s, he was widely respected, and some elected officials looked to the Supreme Court to settle the national debate over slavery.
Though he did not own slaves himself, Taney was outraged by Northern attacks on slavery, and he sought to use the Dred Scott decision to permanently remove slavery as a subject of national debate.
His broad ruling deeply angered many Northerners and strengthened the anti-slavery Republican Party, and Republican Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election.
After Lincoln's election, Taney sympathized with the seceding Southern states, but he did not resign from the Supreme Court.
He strongly disagreed with President Abraham Lincoln's more broad interpretation of executive power in the American Civil War.
In Ex parte Merryman, Taney held that the president could not suspend the writ of habeas corpus.
At the time of Taney's death in 1864, he was widely reviled in the North, and he continues to have a controversial historical reputation.
The Dred Scott ruling is widely considered to be one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever made, though some scholars hold other aspects of Taney's tenure in high regard.