The United States Supreme Court, on June 2, 2022, ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that there was no longer a Constitutional protection to a woman’s right to an abortion. This overturned Roe v. Wade (1973). While this is not a discussion on the efficacy of abortion, it is a discussion on the judicial process as it relates to the United States Supreme Court.
We have seen media coverage of the demonstrations and events that followed the Dobbs decision. One headline read, “in 48 hours of protest, thousands of Americans cry out for abortion rights” (Vox.com). The Washington Post headlined, “Abortion protests continue after Supreme Court Ends Roe v. Wade” (06/25/2022). The national news media has covered demonstrations is Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, and numerous other cities throughout the U.S. One incident that made national news was the arrest of an armed suspect outside the residence of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Justice Kavanaugh was also forced to flee a Washington D.C. restaurant through the back door to avoid protesters. USA Today reported that on 07/19/2022, seventeen members of Congress were arrested in an abortion rights protest near the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. These are just a few examples of the more high-profile responses to the Dobbs decision.
A couple questions arise from the Supreme Court’s change of direction, “Is a change of course of the United States Supreme Court unprecedented”? And “Is the response to this change of course unprecedented?” History suggests the answer to both questions is No!
According to the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court has reversed itself 232 times since 1810. This averages out to about one reversal a year. Capital punishment is one example where the Supreme Court has changed directions on a couple of occasions, both changes occurred in a relatively short period of time. Capital punishment had been legally practiced in the United States from a time before the birth of this nation. The Supreme Court ruled (Furman v. Georgia, 1972) capital punishment violated the Eight Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment) of the Constitution. Four years later, the Supreme Court reversed and again legalized capital punishment, stating it was not cruel and unusual punishment (Gregg v. Georgia, 1976).
The Supreme Court, in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation by applying the “separate but equal” doctrine. This ruling stated that separate treatment did not imply the inferiority of African Americans and, in short, segregation did not in itself constitute unlawful discrimination. The Supreme court reversed itself when, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) the Court ruled unanimously that a separate but equal policy of educational facilities for racial minorities violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The essence of Brown struck down racial segregation in public schools.
The public response to Brown and the desegregation that followed are akin to the current response to Dobbs. In March of 1956, 101 of 128 Southern congressmen signed “The Southern Manifesto,” denouncing the Brown decision. There is news footage and historical photographs of federal troops escorting [Black] students as they attempt to integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. There is news footage and historical photographs of Alabama Governor George Wallace attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama in 1963.
What we are experiencing today in not unprecedented. People in this country have protested for their likes and protested for their dislikes since before the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party (1773) was a demonstration against taxation without representation. It is incumbent upon the citizens of these United States to voice their concerns to their elected officials. History demands that the citizenry voice their concerns. History demands that the citizenry act.
The Supreme Court did not state in Dobbs that abortions were illegal. The Court merely stated that there is no constitutional right to an abortion. What the Court did was transfer the abortion issue back to the states. This is not unprecedented. This is exactly what the Court did with capital punishment. Each state is free to determine its position on capital punishment just as each can now determine their positions on abortion.
The job of the United States Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution. The Court addresses current issues by interpreting and applying the principles of the Constitution. So, was the Supreme Court wrong in its ruling in Plessy? Was the Court wrong in Brown? Was the Court wrong in Roe? The answer to these questions is NO. The court was no more wrong in its interpretations of these cases than it is wrong in Dobbs. The reason the Court is not wrong is the Court interpreted the Constitution based on the facts presented and not on what a portion of the public sentiment may express. Saying the Supreme Court was wrong because one is pro- abortion is like saying a driver was not speeding because the speed limit was too low.
To have elected officials in this country, including the President of the United States, openly state that the Supreme Court was wrong is a clear demonstration that these elected officials have no idea how the Judicial branch of the United States government works. To my knowledge, the President nor any of these members of Congress who have been vocal since the publication of Dobbs, are constitutional scholars. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court ARE constitutional scholars. They did the job they were appointed to do.