Dred Scott may have sparked the most famous of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving a St. Louis-area case, but there are several landmark decisions that the court has issued that have a local connection.
Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857
A case that originated in St. Louis, over one man, had an impact on the entire nation. Dred Scott lost the case in the Supreme Court in 1857 and died before the Civil War began. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's ruling (set a national already hotly debating slavery to the edge of war.
Scott, a slave, sued for freedom from his owner after he moved to Illinois (a free state) and then back to St. Louis. The fight went back and forth in court, with Scott winning a decision in 1850. That decision was appealed, and eventually reached the Supreme Court. Taney wrote that Scott couldn't sue, because he wasn't a citizen -- no black person (even a free black person) was a citizen. He further ruled that Congress shouldn't have passed the Missouri Compromise, because they lacked the power to bar slavery in territories.
Minor v. Happersett, 1872
Virginia L. Minor tried to register to vote in 1872, but the registrar (Reese Happersett) refused to allow her to. Minor and her husband, Francis, sued.
Minor was one of the founders of the Woman Suffrage Association of Missouri. (A national suffrage organization wasn't founded until 1869.) Her lawsuit argued that the 14th Amendment made women citizens of the nation, so they should be able to vote. The court decided that the right to vote wasn't inherent to being a citizen, and that states could decide which citizens could vote.
Minor died in 1894; she and her husband had no surviving children.
Missouri ex. rel. Gaines v. Canada, 1938
Lloyd Gaines graduated Lincoln University in 1935, and wanted to study law, but his application to University of Missouri-Columbia's law school was denied because of his race. Gaines sued, and the Supreme Court decided that Gaines, under the 14th Amendment, deserved an education in-state equivalent to that provided for white students.
The state didn't desegregate Mizzou's law school, though; instead, Lincoln University opened a law school in St. Louis.
Gaines never attended any law school in Missouri; he disappeared in 1939.
Canada was the last name of the university's registrar at the time.
Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948
John D. Shelley and his wife Ethel bought a home at 4600 Labadie in 1945, in an area covered by a restrictive covenant. That agreement, established in 1911, stated that for 50 years "persons not of the Caucasian race" couldn't live on property in the area. Neighbors, Louis Kraemer and his wife, asked the St. Louis Circuit Court to issue an order to prevent the Shelleys from moving in; that court's decision led to the Supreme Court decision.
The Shelleys lived at the home while the case moved through the courts.
The judges didn't decide that the agreements barring members of a certain race from buying property were illegal, but that federal or state courts couldn't enforce the agreements.
At the time of the decision, a member of the Real Estate Board said the first "restrictive covenants" were established in the 1910s, and many had expired. He knew of two still in effect in 1948 - one in northwest city and one in south city.
The Shelley home still stands, and is a National Historic Landmark. Shelley died at 91 in 1997; his wife died in 1983. The couple had 66 great-grandchildren and 32 great-great grandchildren at the time of his death.
Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 1968
A couple, Joseph Lee and Barbara Jo Jones, sued in 1965, after the Alfred H. Mayer Co., refused to sell them a home in a north county subdivision, because Joseph Jones was black. The federal district court dismissed the suit, and that dismissal was upheld by the appellate court, but the Supreme Court decided that the Thirteenth Amendment barred "all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property."
Months later, the Joneses settled the case, agreeing that the firm was not motivated by racial prejudice; the property developer paid all legal costs and paid the couple $2,000 (about $13,000 in 2017). Alfred H. Mayer died in 2002; his obit quoted his brother saying the company had sold homes to black families before the Supreme Court decision, and Mayer "was actually pulling for the other side to win so all developers would be required to sell to minorities."
Jones was stabbed to death in 1974 in his home in Florissant; by that time he was divorced from his wife. His brother was charged with murder.
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 1973
Percy Green is well known for his civil rights activism, including the time he climbed part of the under-construction Arch to protest job discrimination.
That activism includes a lawsuit against McDonnell Douglas Corp., alleging that the company refused to re-hire him. Green was laid of in 1964; he was later involved in demonstrations at the company.
The Supreme Court's decision ordered a new trial, and laid out several criteria that are called the McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting framework, which can be used to determine employment discrimination. Green lost the case on re-trial.
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 1988
The Supreme Court decided the principal of Hazelwood East High School could prevent publication of specific articles in the school newspaper; because the paper was part of the school curriculum.
The case involved stories about pregnancy and divorce, which principal Robert E. Reynolds decided in 1983 shouldn't be published because of privacy concerns. The case raised issues of free speech, censorship and school administrators' responsibilities.
The students who sued were Cathy Kuhlmeier, Leanne Tippett and Leslie Smart. In an article about the decision, Kuhlmeier said: "We were trying to make a change with the school paper and not just write about school proms, football games and piddling stuff. I don't think the administration wanted anyone to know that there were problems in the schools or allow us to tackle issues that had some relevance to the students."
Charles T. Sell v. United States, 2003
Charles "Tom" Sell, accused of Medicaid fraud, threatening a federal witness and plotting to kill an FBI agent, refused to take medication to control a mental illness that prevented him from facing trial. The Court's decision was that medication could only be forced upon inmates rarely, and established four criteria federal prosecutors would have to show before medicating a nonviolent prisoner.
Sell later pleaded no contest to the federal charges of fraud and conspiracy to kill a witness and FBI agent; 54 counts of Medicaid fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy charges were dropped.
Roper v. Simmons, 2005
Christopher Simmons, then 17, was charged with murder in 1993. The Fenton resident, along with a friend, robbed and killed of Shirley Ann Crook, who lived south of Fenton. They threw her off a railroad bridge into the Meramec. Simmons was sentenced to death, but his sentence was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court The ruling held that if a person was under 18 when they committed their crime, carrying out a death sentence would violate the Eighth Amendment.
Simmons is still in prison in Missouri; the Roper in the court case was Donald P. Roper, the superintendent of the prison where Simmons was held at the time.
Other notable cases
Ladue v. Gilleo, 1991: Margaret Gilleo put up a sign in the yard of her Ladue home, and sued the city after she was told the sign was illegal. The legal battle reached the Supreme Court, which found the city's ordinance was a violation of free speech. The city paid hundreds of thousands in legal bills.
Missouri v. Iowa, 1849: The decision defined the state's border; disputes over the exact location led to the "Honey War."