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In 2022, the world was shocked when a US Supreme Court ruling, Roe vs Wade, was overturned and made it possible for states to make abortion illegal. But how were they able to do this? Can Supreme Court decisions be overturned?
Unfortunately, yes, and while the overturning of Roe vs. Wade changed the lives of women across the nation, another overturning of Plessy vs. Furgeson is what ended segregation in the United States. Therefore, not all overturnings of Supreme Court rulings are considered negative.
Read on to learn more about Supreme Court rulings and what happens when they are overturned.
What is the Supreme Court?
In order to understand Supreme Court rulings, it’s important to start with a discussion of what the Supreme Court is.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. It is also the court that speaks on behalf of the constitution. Basically, if there is a court case that brings constitutional legality into question, it will be seen by the Supreme Court.
This is particularly important in the terms of lawsuits that go against the laws of the state. For example, the famous case Roe vs. Wade was originally brought against Texas State Law, but because Texas State Law was based on federal law, the case was eventually seen by the Supreme Court for a ruling.
The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President and affirmed by the senate. Once appointed, the judges of the Supreme Court serve for the remainder of their lives. The Supreme Court hears about 80 cases each year. Supreme Court judges are also responsible for issuing stays of execution.
What is a Supreme Court Ruling?
A Supreme Court ruling is the final findings of a court case by the Supreme Court. Because the Supreme Court is essentially the highest law in the land, there is no way to further escalate the case. It is a final ruling.
Can a US Supreme Court Decision be Overturned?
The US Supreme Court is the highest court, therefore, the only way to overturn a ruling of the Supreme Court is by another ruling or because the court decides to overturn its own rulings.
But the Supreme Court can’t just go back through cases and look for ones they want to overrule. Rather a similar case needs to be presented to the court, and if this case interferes with the ruling of a previous case, the ruling in the new case can overturn the previous case.
That’s exactly what happened in the case of Roe vs. Wade. The decision, in this case, wasn’t re-evaluated (as the news may have made it seem), but rather the decision was overturned because a later decision the court made conflicted with the previous decision. The decision which overturned Roe vs. Wade was a decision made in the case Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Because the Supreme Court decided to rule in favor of Dobbs, this ruling overturned rights that had been outlined in the previous Roe vs. Wade ruling, basically making what was ruled in the previous case no longer applicable.
Can the US Supreme Court Overturn Any Ruling?
Technically, the US Supreme Court can overturn any previous ruling with a new one. But that being said, you don’t have to worry about the US Supreme Court going back and randomly overturning random cases. In order to overturn a case, as mentioned above, there must be a new and similar case presented.
Remember, however, that the US Supreme Court acts on behalf of the Constitution. This means that their rulings are based on what is featured in the US Constitution. Unfortunately, the US Constitution is an old document, and over the years, new interpretations of the document have come into play.
Because the original writers of the Constitution aren’t around, this means that different people can infer the rights outlined in the Constitution in different ways. This can cause problems as new justices are appointed to the US Supreme Court, as they may interpret the document differently than those before them.
Can the US Supreme Court Change the Constitution?
The justices of the US Supreme Court are simply interpreters of the Constitution, and while interpretations will vary from person to person, the US Supreme Court cannot actually change the Constitution. This is left to the Senate and Congress.
The Founding Fathers were smart when they penned the Constitution, and they didn’t want to give any one group of people total power over the future of a nation. While it may seem like the US Supreme Court has a lot of power, they cannot add or detract from the Constitution, they can only comment on what is already there. This divides the power between the judicial and legislative branches.
Can Supreme Court Decisions Change the Constitution?
No. A Supreme Court decision does not change the Constitution. It just changes how the Constitution is able to be interpreted by the states and the federal government.
This doesn’t mean that Supreme Court decisions should be taken lightly, however, because they do play a huge part in how laws are made across the US. But the US Supreme Court isn’t changing anything other than what is meant by the words in the constitution.
Can the US Supreme Court Overturn a Constitutional Amendment?
No, the US Supreme Court cannot overturn a Constitutional Amendment. Only the legislative branch, Congress, and the Senate have this power. But they must work in conjunction to do so, which is difficult.
Can Citizens Overrule the US Supreme Court?
US citizens cannot overrule the US Supreme Court because it is the highest court in the nation. Not even Congress or the Senate can do anything to change a Supreme Court decision.
Why Does the US Have a Supreme Court?
As we have touched on previously in this article, the US Supreme Court was set up by the Founding Fathers in order to divide power in their newly founded country. The Founding Fathers were smart and knew that times would change, therefore, the document they had penned would not always be viable.
But they didn’t want just anyone changing this document. This is why they divided the power to change the document between two groups of people, Congress and the Senate. The states would be represented differently in each group, hoping to balance the power between the big cities and small towns of the United States. These were the only parties able to write amendments to the Constitution.
They also needed someone to execute the changes, which was left to the President and his cabinet. The Founding Fathers also knew that issues would arise with the way the document was written because people see things differently. This is why they introduced the judicial branch, basically the US Supreme Court, to make judgments on issues that arose with the document.
The Founding Fathers hoped that by creating this division of power that no one person would be able to influence the outcome of the nation. They hoped everything would be a collective decision.
During the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, many people felt the US Supreme Court had way too much power. But the truth is, they didn’t have enough. Many of the judges who ruled on Dodds vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization actually supported the right to an abortion. The problem is, they couldn’t interpret the US Constitution in the same way the previous judges had.
Many of them pointed out that abortion isn’t in the Constitution, and they are right, it isn’t. Previously the justices of the Supreme Court felt that an abortion was a private matter, and therefore, it was factored into the section of the Supreme Court that protects a citizen's privacy. These Supreme Court judges felt that abortion was a government issue, not a private issue, and that is what influenced their ruling and caused it to be overturned. And as of the writing of this article, it now is a public government issue that is dealt with on a state-by-state basis.
So the US has the Supreme Court in order to keep the power divided, and this is still true to this day as in 2022, the court could only rule on a case that was in front of them and could not put an amendment into the Constitution or anything more.
Why Are There 9 Supreme Court Justices?
Many wonder why there are 9 justices in the supreme court. While the Constitution requires there to be at least 5 (in order to divide the power) and no more than 10 (to keep it from becoming congress), there have been 9 justices since 1869.
This number was chosen because it allows for the highest division of power possible while still maintaining an odd number so that there is no need for a tie-breaking vote in the case that the justices should become deadlocked.
Reference Legal Explanations
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"Can US Supreme Court Descisions be Overturned?". Legal Explanations. Accessed on March 2, 2024. https://legal-explanations.com/blog/can-us-supreme-court-descisions-be-overturned/.
"Can US Supreme Court Descisions be Overturned?". Legal Explanations, https://legal-explanations.com/blog/can-us-supreme-court-descisions-be-overturned/. Accessed 2 March, 2024
Can US Supreme Court Descisions be Overturned?. Legal Explanations. Retrieved from https://legal-explanations.com/blog/can-us-supreme-court-descisions-be-overturned/.