Supreme Court Reversals
July 28, 2004 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Has the Supreme Court ever reversed a unanimous Supreme Court ruling? How frequently are 8-1 rulings overturned? I'm writing a paper on Brown v. Board of Education and was wondering whether it was worth it for Warren to press for unanimity given that the "all deliberate speed" clause was added to achieve this, and severely diluted the ruling.

Uhm... Is this thing on?
posted by alphanerd to Law & Government (8 answers total)
well, didn't Brown v. Board of Ed in itself overturn Plessy v. Ferguson? there's a scotusblog that might know. (and another, and a general legal one too (i bet they would answer emails also about this)
posted by amberglow at 6:49 PM on July 28, 2004

Also, my understanding of the value of unanimity (particularly in, say, US v. Nixon, was not so much that it was less likely to be overturned, but that it assured there was no "wiggle room" to go against the ruling. (Not that that worked, what with the "all deliberate speed" blunder.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 6:59 PM on July 28, 2004

Plessy v Ferguson wasn't a unanimous ruling. Justice Harlan dissented. But it's the only example I know of where the US Supreme Court reversed itself (in Brown). I can't find another example through's lackluster search. There's a pay site with a searchable index that might be more help.
posted by Jeff Howard at 7:35 PM on July 28, 2004

well, Bowers v. Hardwick and Lawrence v. Texas (the recent texas sodomy case) should count as a reversal too, altho neither were unanimous.
posted by amberglow at 7:53 PM on July 28, 2004

From the GPO's Annotated Constitution: Supreme Court Decisions Overruled by Subsequent Decisions. (The list ends at 1992, a few more are in the 2000 supplement.)
posted by PrinceValium at 8:05 PM on July 28, 2004

boy, that's a lot of overturned cases.
posted by amberglow at 8:11 PM on July 28, 2004

Just to restate what the linked report says though, the SCOTUS almost never uses the term "reversed" when referring to their own precedent. Even if they knock out a large chunk of a prior decision, they'll usually do it by "distinguishing" the prior casse. Lawrence is actually pretty rare in actually coming right out and saying, more or less, "we were wrong."
posted by boltman at 8:43 PM on July 28, 2004

ack, sorry, not reversed, overruled.
posted by boltman at 8:43 PM on July 28, 2004

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