Gaffe Track: Huckabee's Supreme Confusion About Dred Scott

Chris Tilley / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Mike Huckabee

The gaffe: In explaining why he supports Kim Davis and rejects the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, Huck reached way back: “The Dred Scott decision of 1857 still remains to this day the law of the land, which says that black people aren’t fully human. Does anybody still follow the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision?” Well, no—because it was overturned by the Fourteenth Amendment, in 1868.

The defense: Constitutional law is difficult, and the former Arkansas governor has struggled with it before—for example, advancing novel and nonsensical theories about how states could respond to the Supreme Court that echo historical “nullification” efforts.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): If you’re making a dubious states-rights-based claim, don’t cite the most infamous pro-slavery decision in American history.

The moral: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat foolish arguments about it during their presidential campaigns.