During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was able to replace the Taney Court with corporation-friendly Republicans like Samuel F. Miller of Iowa, whom he nominated in 1862. Lincoln's court strategy was to appoint Republicans who would endorse presidential powers in a war to save the Union.
Like Taney, Miller had owned slaves but freed them. And he was a party loyalist. As Miller's biographer claims, he "sought results first and then found the arguments to justify them."
Miller's appointment came just as Lincoln was contemplating the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln could have asked Miller his views on the scope of black freedom, but he never did. He never even met Miller. And with no opposition in Congress, the Senate confirmed Miller in just hours.
Miller's appointment may have been shrewd politics but it hollowed out the Civil War's crowning achievement, the abolition of slavery and constitutional protections for African-American citizenship, including equal protection of the laws and the right to vote.
It was Miller's majority ruling in the 5-4 Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873 that had the effect of limiting civil rights protections for African-Americans under the 14th Amendment, which extended citizenship to African-Americans and forbade states to deny them equal protection of the laws. The ruling in effect gave states sole power over areas of citizenship not explicitly covered in the federal Constitution. That, in turn, ultimately led to the growth of racist Jim Crow laws in states.
President Ulysses Grant's two nominees were also pushed through hastily and had an oversized impact on civil rights.
Those appointments – conservative pro-business Republican Joseph P. Bradley and political hack Morrison Waite – unwittingly undermined Grant's own Justice Department's civil rights enforcement.
In 1870 Grant appointed Bradley specifically to help business interests concerned about recent decisions that they believed harmed them. Bradley faced scant opposition from a majority-Republican Senate in bed with railroad and other corporate interests.
Four years later, Grant picked Waite, a crony of Grant's Ohio friends, who had zero judicial experience. Called a "national nonentity" by a court historian, Waite's appointment surprised everyone, including Waite. The Senate confirmed him without debate.
The unintended consequences of these two overtly political nominations became clear in U.S. v. Cruikshank, an 1876 court decision.
In April 1873, up to 150 African-Americans were murdered by whites in a conflict over two competing Louisiana governments. Among those whites was William Cruikshank.
Cruikshank and others who participated in the massacre were charged and convicted in federal court of civil rights violations under the Enforcement Act of 1870. That act made it a federal crime to violate civil rights and was passed with the intention of putting teeth in the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the laws and due process. The case considered by the court was an appeal of those initial convictions.
Justice Waite ruled that the 14th Amendment's civil rights provisions, including the equal protections of the laws and right to due process, did not apply to the victims of the Colfax Massacre.
Justice Bradley concurred in the ruling, clearing Cruikshank. Indeed, Bradley declared that none of the Colfax Massacre defendants were alleged to have "committed the acts complained of with a design to deprive the injured persons of their rights on account of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Bradley and Waite's responses constituted willful blindness to a naked act of racial terrorism. And these decisions gutted the 14th Amendment's civil rights provisions, leading to the swift and violent rise of Jim Crow.