Congress Does Not Overrule or Reverse the Supreme Court. They just pass new laws, which the Court (should) interpret.

February 1st, 2010

Many are calling for President Obama and the Congress to overrule, or reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.  In Adam Liptak’s most recent NY Times column, he writes about President Obama signing legislation that “reverses” the Ledbetter Supreme Court decision:

He was, however, harshly critical of a 2007 sex-discrimination ruling barring a suit from Lilly M. Ledbetter on statute of limitations grounds. The majority opinion in the 5-to-4 ruling, dividing along the usual ideological lines, was written by Justice Alito.

All of those decisions landed before Mr. Obama took office, though he signed legislation reversing the Ledbetter decision soon after he arrived. Citizens United represents his first major confrontation with the court as president.

Elsewhere, Senators aim to reverse Iqbal.

The use of the term “overruling” or “reversing” with respect to the Supreme Court is a huge pet peeve of mine.

This point was made most poignantly when Justice Alito came to speak at Mason last year.  I asked him about the Supreme Court overruling the Ledbetter decision, and he balked. He told me flat out that it was up to Congress to change the law. If Alito had considered the case under a different law, he would have decided the case differently.

Congress CANNOT overrule a Court. That mistakes the fundamental role that our three branches perform. The Court should interpret the laws written by Congress and signed by the President. If Congress does not like how the Supreme Court interpreted a case, they are free to draft a new law, or in constitutional cases like Citizens United, begin the process of ratifying a new amendment. Once the Supreme Law of the land is changed, the Court will then have different law to interpret and (should) resolve the case according to the meaning of the new law.