What if the five worst and best US Supreme Court decisions were not made, or were decided in the reverse?
This was the worst court decision in American history. It made white supremacy the law of the land, that continued for nearly 100 years. If Dred Scott were made in reverse, essentially declaring slavery illegal based on the Constitutional principle that all men are created equal, the civil war probably would have started four years sooner.
Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that since Dred Scott was a slave, he had no standing to sue. The Founding Fathers, in the high court’s interpretation, did not believe that African Americans were equal, nor full citizens. They believed blacks were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
The Dred Scott decision essentially declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, finding that it violated slaveholders’ property rights “as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, thus placing property rights above human and civil rights.”
The Dred Scott decision, as Politico noted, was effectively nullified just eight years later, “in 1865 by the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and by the 14th Amendment in 1868, which guaranteed full citizenship rights to all Americans, regardless of race.”
But a statue honoring white supremacist Chief Justice Taney remained in front of the Maryland State House until August 2017, when Republican Governor Larry Hogan ordered it removed.
Another terrible decision by the Supreme Court was in 1896, Plessy V. Ferguson, Upholding Segregation.
It caused the spread of Jim Crow laws discriminating against African Americans and was not overturned for nearly three generations, or 58 years, until 1954. It caused terrific suffering of millions of African Americans, loss of billions in income and endurance of poverty that resonates to today. If the court had outlawed segregation in 1896, at the start of the Progressive Movement, it would have sparked a Civil Rights Movement to end legal and social segregation a half-century earlier. Or, if white supremacists refused to obey the decision, more violence, racial conflict and perhaps even a second civil war. The Supreme Court justices did not have the moral courage to make the right decision. Or more charitably, they were pragmatists who voted 7 to 1 to maintain the status quo, to avoid a second civil war.
These decisions affirmed the state’s right to sterilize citizens with intellectual disabilities, violating their rights to have autonomy over their own bodies; affirmed the detention of Japanese Americans during WWII, and criminalizing homosexuality. These decisions also caused untold suffering by hundreds of thousands of Americans. If decided in reverse, the high court would have proven itself a moral leader of the nation. But again, if leaders and courts step too far in front of the citizenry, will people obey such decisions?
That question is answered if we examine the best Supreme Court Decisions.
The reasoning behind the 1962 decision banning the promotion of Christian prayer in public schools was stellar, but the public in many parts of the South did not accept the decision for at least 20 years. It sparked in part the private school movement in the evangelical Christian community.
For most of these best decisions, the justices decided that the American public was finally ready to accept racial equality under the law, was sufficiently educated to accept the legal rights of defendants, and could be pushed to accept the rights of minorities to vote in equal measure and power, the principle of one-person, one vote.
If these decisions were made in reverse, the repressive era of Jim Crow and societal dominance by white Christian Protestants would have continued.