The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Its decisions set precedents that all other courts then follow, and no lower court can ever supersede a Supreme Court decision. In fact, not even Congress or the president can change, reject or ignore a Supreme Court decision.
American law operates under the doctrine of stare decisis, which means that prior decisions should be maintained — even if the current court would otherwise rule differently — and that lower courts must abide by the prior decisions of higher courts. The idea is based on a belief that government needs to be relatively stable and predictable.
This means that overturning a Supreme Court decision is very difficult. But there are two ways it can happen:
- States can amend the Constitution itself. This requires approval by three-quarters of the state legislatures — no easy feat. However, it has happened several times.
- The Supreme Court can overturn its past decisions. This happens when a different case involving the same constitutional issue as an earlier case is reviewed by the Court and seen in a new light, typically because of changing social and political situations.
It isn't easy to do, but we've compiled a list of 12 Supreme Court cases that were overturned, many leaving a permanent mark on American history.