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.
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.