Column by Lang Keith
For well over a century two cases have been universally considered to be the worst decisions in the Supreme Court’s history: Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson. On June 24th the case of Dobbs v. Jackson eliminated a woman’s constitutional right to choose set forth in Roe v. Wade. This egregious decision will doubtless join Dred Scott and Plessy, and thus create a Supreme Court-terribly-decided-case trifecta.
History buffs will recall that Dred Scott held that persons of African descent were not citizens and therefore had no rights and privileges under the Constitution. Not satisfied with that blockbuster holding, the Court went on to strike down the Missouri Compromise. Aside from its horrendous effect on rights of Blacks, Dred Scott’s trashing of the Missouri Compromise led directly to the Civil War by opening the floodgates for the expansion of slavery. The 1896 Plessy decision permitted segregation, which put a constitutional imprimatur on almost six decades of Jim Crow laws in the South and elsewhere. Justice Alito’s opinion in Dobbs falls within the notorious Dred Scott/Plessy pantheon primarily because: (1) it rewrites the until now well-settled principles of Stare Decisis (i.e., stick to previous decisions except in exceptional circumstances); (2) distinguishes relevant prior cases with reasoning that would make a first-year law student blush; and finally, (3) is the result, not of any change in the law, but merely the appointment of new judges.