By Whitney Ross Manzo
Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States began issuing its most controversial decisions of the 2021-2022 term. They do this every year around the end of June into early July, which is traditionally their 'end of the term' before going into their “vacation” until the 2022-2023 term starts on the first Monday in October. (During this break, justices do some work of reviewing petitions and preparing for the next term. However, they are not nearly as active as during the term, such as hearing oral arguments and releasing opinions, so that they can disappear to Austria, if they like.)
For people who study and teach on the Court, like Michael Bitzer and I do, words cannot adequately express how unprecedented and radical last week’s decisions were. We are used to teaching students about how the Court relies on stare decisis (literally “to stand by things decided”) in order to promote stability and consistency in law. We explain how justices must use sound legal reasoning in order for their decisions to be respected and upheld by the other branches of government, and ultimately by the public at large.
Last week’s decisions took a giant wrecking ball to basically every lecture I have on the Supreme Court, because they illuminate how none of these things are actually true. Justices don't rely on stare decisis unless it suits them. Justices don't have to use sound legal reasoning because, honestly, who’s going to stop them? They are the final say on the Constitution, after all.
But should they be?