Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Sordid Backstory of Griffin's Case

Gerard N. Magliocca

One issue in the upcoming appeal of the Colorado decision on Section Three is whether the Supreme Court should follow Chief Justice Chase's circuit opinion in Griffin's Case. I offered an internal and external critique of Griffin's Case in my law review article. Baude and Paulsen provide a more detailed takedown in their paper. Here I want to reveal another troubling dimension of the case, which involves facts that were not described by the Chief Justice. What occurred, though, was widely discussed in the newspapers at the time, as well as in subsequent books on Reconstruction in Virginia.

Ceasar Griffin was a Black man who refused to step aside for a white woman who was walking down the street. The woman's son, outraged by this "insult," got a switch and went after Griffin to beat him. But Griffin was armed with a pistol and shot his attacker (though not fatally). A crowd then tried to lynch Griffin, but he was saved in the nick of time, put on trial, and convicted. (His assailant was not charged.) Many saw this case as an injustice, which helps explain why Griffin was pardoned right after the Chief Justice issued his decision denying habeas corpus relief.

It would be a shame if a case with this fact pattern was embraced by the Supreme Court as foundational for interpreting Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment narrowly.   


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