The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation. 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. 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 overrule itself. This happens when a different case involving the same constitutional issues as an earlier case is reviewed by the court and seen in a new light, typically because of changing social and political situations. The longer the amount of time between the cases, the more likely this is to occur (partly due to stare decisis).
It isn't easy to do, but we've compiled a list of 10 Supreme Court cases that were later overturned. Many of them left a permanent mark on American history.