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Awful Eight: The Worst Supreme Court Decisions in History


Supreme-Court-building-permission*Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts by Kurt Naas.  The entire series is linked to at the bottom of this post.

Perhaps no other institution in America- not Congress, not the Presidency, and certainly not the electorate- has been more instrumental in defining the relationship between citizen and government. In June the Court will issue their ruling on King v Burwell, and perhaps decide the fate of Obamacare. Before the end of the year the Court will define marriage.

Just last week the Court ruled that detaining a suspect an additional 7-8 minutes for a drug-sniffing dog violated the Fourth Amendment (Rodriguez v United States), yet arresting that same suspect and dragging him down to the station would not have. (The suspect had been driving erratically and turned out to have a large bag of meth in the car.)

The fact is Supreme Court decisions affect you every day, from how much the government can regulate your activity to what it can compel you to purchase. Thus, understanding Supreme Court rulings is indispensable to understanding the accepted role of government.

At the time they are rendered Supreme Court rulings are viewed with a sense of finality. We believe the issue, contentious and momentous enough to have made to the Court in the first place, is settled once and for all. The Court is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, and their decisions are as inerrant as Scripture.

Except, of course, when the Court gets it wrong. Sometimes, really wrong. Unfortunately those decisions still carry the force of law and the results can set in motion consequences that reverberate for decades. The Court’s rulings have subjugated millions to second- class status, imprisoned thousands of innocents and forced people out of their homes. Sometimes those wrongs were righted after a few years; others took a lifetime. Still others never were.

All of this is why I undertook a survey of the most “wrong” decisions of all time. I looked at dozens of cases and settled on eight. How did they make the list? Of course any such list is subjective, but my criteria were the erosion of liberty, the scope and length of the injustice, and the level of questionable jurisprudence to reach the desired outcome.

The results were all across the board. No time period or ideology held more than its fair share. For instance, two of the “Awful Eight” were from the 19th Century, three from the 20th, and three from the 21st. Liberal “awful” opinions outscored conservative ones by the slimmest of margins—5-3.   Three resulted from judicial restraint, five from judicial activism.

In short, no common ideological or judicial thread binds them except their tragic consequences.

So with that, on to the list. I hope you find it informative.

#8: “Speeding” the Court

#7: You May Now Regulate Everything

#6: The Power to Regulate Everything Becomes Reality

#5: Foundations of Sand

#4: They All Look Alike

#3: Your Home is the Government’s Castle

#2: Government by Organized Money

(Dis)Honorable Mentions

#1: Two Generations Lost


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