“Rights” and Precedent

There is considerable discussion concerning whether a constitutional right to an abortion existed and was taken away by the Supreme Court’s just released ruling on Dobbs or whether, as Justice Alito emphasized in his Dobbs opinion for the Court that such a right never existed, it was merely the creation of Roe and then claimed again in Casey.

And therein lies the point of this post.

There is no right to an abortion contained in our Constitution, whether couched in the 14th Amendment or in any other part of the document—not literally, not figuratively, not encompassed in any penumbra.

Nevertheless, the claimed right has been, and rightly so, the law of the land since the 1973 Roe ruling, as are all Supreme Court rulings the law of the land from the moment of publication of the ruling. But it’s not a very durable law.

That’s a problem with Court rulings, a problem closely analogous with Presidential executive actions: Executive Orders and the like. Any “right” created by a Court ruling can be withdrawn by a subsequent Court ruling, just as any Presidential executive action can be withdrawn by a subsequent President.

The rights acknowledged in our Constitution, in contrast, can only be undone by a supermajority of us American citizens, through a supermajority of our States.

A Supreme Court precedent should be deeply respected. However, as Justice Clarence noted in his Gamble v United States concurrence,

In my view, the Court’s typical formulation of the stare decisis standard does not comport with our judicial duty under Article III because it elevates demonstrably erroneous decisions [whosever view of erroneous, I add]…over the text of the Constitution and other duly enacted federal law.

And [emphasis added]

This view of stare decisis follows directly from the Constitution’s supremacy over other sources of law—including our own precedents.

By their nature, no precedent can be the final word, else we’d have neither Brown nor Citizens United nor Janus, and we’d have only war to which to resort regarding rulings like Dred Scott and the war organizations like Ruth Sent Us and Jane’s Revenge currently threaten over Dobbs, that politicians like Chuck Schumer threatened if Court rulings didn’t go his way, that Cori Bush and Maxine Waters currently threaten, and that Federal government officials like Merrick Garland and Joe Biden indirectly threaten with their refusal to enforce Court rulings of which they personally disapprove.

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