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If Precedent was Erroneously Decided, it Should Be Overturned

In the next few months, the Supreme Court will decide on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The case could overturn Roe v. Wade and return the power to control abortion laws back to the states. While some argue that Roe is precedent and should therefore not be tampered with, the Supreme Court has corrected many of its bad decisions in the past, and it’s clear that it should do so in this case as well. 

The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint listed numerous SCOTUS cases that have overturned previous decisions in the last 60 years. The outlet notes that while adhering to precedent provides consistency within the law, not all precedents are created equal. Inevitably, the court will make a mistake and even long-standing rules can be corrected. 

While overturning precedent happens very rarely, the court has done so 145 times between 1789 and 2020. The most well-known case of precedent reversal occurred in 1954 when the court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson in Brown v. Board of Education, striking down segregation. Thankfully, the justices presiding over Brown v. Board of Education recognized that Plessy v. Ferguson was erroneously decided and ruled against the precedent. 

In 1973, our justices misinterpreted the Constitution to include the right to abortion. We know that abortion is not protected in our founding document. We also know much more about the horrors of abortion and how it harms both children and mothers than we did at the time of the court’s decision. Roe v. Wade must be overturned. 

“When faced with a demonstrably erroneous precedent, my rule is simple: We should not follow it,” Justice Clarence Thomas once said.

He goes on to say that, “A demonstrably incorrect judicial decision is tantamount to making law, and adhering to it both disregards the supremacy of the Constitution and perpetuates a usurpation of the legislative power.” Precedent does not protect erroneous rulings from standing. If it did, our country would still allow racial segregation. 

Thomas once also said that the principle of stare decisis, or adhering to precedent, does have power, “but not enough to keep me from going to the Constitution.” In other words, the Constitution, not previous cases, should be the primary reference when judges are forming their decisions. 

Our Supreme Court justices are simply human, and therefore will make mistakes. To declare their decisions irreversible would be incredibly imprudent. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have echoed Justice Thomas’ sentiment, claiming that precedent should be overruled when there are flaws in the original decision’s reasoning. This gives us hope that our current justices will do just that, overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022.


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