The US Supreme Court

There is rampant confusion as to what US Supreme case law means or does. This is not surprising as the legal system is set up to be as confusing and obfuscated as humanly possible. While the other two branches routinely exceed their stated power, you can not even reference the US Constitution for an overview of what the Supreme Court does because what’s written there is not what they do.

This should give non-legal professionals a general idea of how Supreme Court case law operates. This is in no way adequate as legal training or to help you do something stupid like represent yourself. This is an overview of what IS. Not what should be, what the US Constitution itself says, what some case from 1777 says about drivers licenses, or what would be if good people had as many tanks as the Feds. What should be is that the State dissolves itself and you never need legal analysis for any reason ever again.

The State refers to what I call Supreme Court case law as “Constitutional Law.” This is inaccurate as the overwhelming majority of it has nothing to do with the US Constitution. Unless you count making things up and claiming that they are in the constitution as having something to do with the constitution. They can’t stop me, so I will accurately refer to it as Supreme Court case law. There are some “administrative” tasks that the Supreme Court preforms, but for the most part these do not effect regular people and even most lawyers will never read them. While Supreme Court case law is not at all based on the constitution, it is not typically ad hoc’d on a case by case basis. People who work in the field are able to predict results with a reasonable degree of certainty. They do have a system; that system just isn’t the constitution. The justices WILL ad hoc the results of cases that are fundamental to the existence of the State irrespective of what their general reasoning is, such as the draft, religious objections to taxation, and concentration camps in California. In fact, you can not even appeal a particular tax without first paying the tax.

Most cases that are recognizable in general culture are no longer current law. This includes Miranda and Roe v Wade. In my opinion Miranda gave a roadmap for how to overrule it in the case itself and it was not long lived. This popularity can be a good thing though, as I also don’t think that there would be ANYTHING left of “Miranda rights” if they had not been popularized. The current federal case law on feticide is Casey v Planned Parenthood. Most analysis by media of what a case says is not fully accurate. Sometimes this is because they are lying and sometimes it is because they are not trained in case law. If you ever want to read a case itself you can look it up on Google Scholar- this will only work for appellate courts and above.

Federal court rulings that are not from the Supreme Court and are not from the jurisdiction that claims to have authority over you are irrelevant. This means that if you live in New Hampshire and have no ties to California, a federal court ruling out of California will not effect you. It does not “overrule” state laws or case law of states not located in that circuit. Preemption doesn’t apply here. The fact that it is a federal court is meaningless.

The Supreme Court does not create crimes. In the realm of criminal law, the Supreme Court does not tell humans what they can not do. Or at least, it does not make up new things to tell humans that they can not do, as it will uphold a state’s prohibition on human action. The Supreme Court tells states what they can not criminalize. It will also declare clearly unconstitutional evidence to be admissible at trial. If the Supreme Court has previously ruled that states can not criminalize a behavior and subsequently overrules that case, then that behavior is not automatically criminalized. There would have to be a state statute criminalizing the behavior. Some states sit on “trigger laws” which are statutes that are on the books and not enforced in the hopes that the Supreme Court will overturn a previous ruling and the state can begin to enforce the statute. For example, in 1972 feticide was illegal in some states and legal in other states with certain restrictions. The Supreme Court told the states that it could not criminalize all feticide. If the Supreme Court were to overrule all of its cases regarding feticide, it would not automatically become illegal, and there is no way for the Supreme Court to make it illegal. It would then be up to each state whether or not to criminalize feticide. Of course, Congress could exceed its enumerated powers and write laws on general crimes, which is why weed is illegal “in” every state on a federal level. Several states have laws on the books that criminalize all feticide, and these laws would become legally enforceable in the event that the Supreme Court overruled all of its cases on the topic- became the Supreme Court would no longer telling the states that they can not criminalize a thing.

The State isn’t exactly lawful evil. Due to the US Supreme Court’s inability to hear every case that is appealed to it, and its lack of an army, it can not always enforce its dictates. Perhaps there is something inherently wrong with the system of 9 people finalizing decisions for a third of a continent. Some states care more than others whether or not enforcing a law or other state action is in conflict with US Supreme Court case law. Generally speaking, this case law will be followed, and typically a state would be opening itself up to litigation if there is a human or private entity that would have cause for complaint. But State agents aren’t known for their high levels of integrity, and this case law is no more immune to being ignored by State agents than any other law is. Someone who shall not be named has referred to the Supreme Court as Tinker Bell. Meaning that it has power because “we” think it does as it has no enforcement arm big enough to actually enforce anything.

As much as it effects the parties to the case, the fact that the Supreme Court denied to hear a particular case is NOT case law on the issues. It has exactly zero legal effect on any future cases. The previously ruling stands, not because the Supreme Court upheld it, but because nothing overruled it.

The Supreme Court can not make rulings on random issues. They can pick through available cases looking for an issue that they want to rule on, but they can not just issue a random opinion declaring something to be “unconstitutional” or not. Due to dicta rules, there may be several cases that seem relevant but because they clearly raise more legally relevant if less culturally relevant issues, the topic will not be ruled on.

As a professional curtesy, or a veiled threat, depending on your interpretation, the Supreme Court will often take a seemingly relevant case, decide it on other issues, and hint on how it would rule if those issues were actually before it. This is why they are often in the news for taking a case and seemingly not actually deciding it only to decide the same issue a few years later.

Rights do not mean the same thing in legal as they do in English. The State will recognize a right in a way, then use “balancing tests” that courts will analyze to decide who wins- your rights or the interests of the State. The Supreme Court has made up most of these balancing tests. There is rational basis- which means that the State has to show a sane reason furthering a “legitimate government interest” in order to violate your rights (or in order to refrain from giving you free stuff). All but truly insane laws will pass this test. If the State wants to violate a fundamental right (which the State might define differently that I do) it has to pass strict scrutiny by “narrowly tailoring” a law to a “compelling government interest” such as national security, maintaining a military, taxing ability, and in general things that would bring about peace were they to be struck down. Strict scrutiny also applies to laws targeting protected classes: race, gender, etc. So a law limiting positions to people of a certain race would be upheld if the position was for an embedded spy and you needed to be that race to be passable. A law limiting positions to people of a certain race would be struck down if the DMV claimed that the line move quicker when only Asians issued license plates. Intermediate scrutiny is a weird standard that basically means something in between rational review and strict scrutiny. Even though the Supreme Court agrees with you that you have a legal right, that doesn’t mean you win.

Sadistically, the only way to get a ruling on whether or not a state law or federal statute/regulation violates Supreme Court case law is to violate the law. On the other hand, the only way for a state to know how far it can go without being overruled by Supreme Court case law is to go to absurd extremes, or at least to go further than it actually wants to go, and see what sticks.

The US Supreme Court is basically an appeals court where you can appeal from the state system. (You can also appeal from lower federal courts, but that makes more sense as they are part of the federal system.) They have their own system of common law which they will generally apply to cases that they choose to hear. It does follow a certain set of logic, regardless of whether or not it is immoral. It also makes exceptions to this logic when convenient. It does not base its rulings on any legislation. They make the claim that their rulings are interpretations of the constitution. The Supreme Court has been referred to as a lagging indicator of public opinion, which is evidence that it has nothing to do with the US Constitution.

Leave a Reply