Reversals of Court decisions by amendment Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Overturning of a Supreme Court ruling interpreting a provision of the Constitution by a constitutional amendment.

According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, two-thirds majorities of both houses of Congress or a convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of state legislatures can propose an amendment to the Constitution.Constitutional amendment process The amendment must be ratified by three-quarters of the states through their legislatures or special conventions. These amendments enable Congress to overturn a Supreme Court ruling involving a constitutional issue. In contrast, if Congress wishes to overturn a Court ruling interpreting a federal statute, it can do so simply by passing another law. Among the amendments successfully proposed by Congress, five the Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Sixteenth, and Twenty-sixth can be interpreted as overturning Court rulings.

The Eleventh Amendment,Eleventh Amendment ratified in 1795, overturned Chisholm v. Georgia[case]Chisholm v. Georgia[Chisholm v. Georgia] (1793) by limiting the federal courts’ right to hear suits brought against states by citizens of other states. In Chisholm, the Court had allowed a citizen of South Carolina to sue the state of Georgia. Because a number of state governments were in default on their debts at the time, the states feared that the Chisholm case would make them vulnerable to a flood of lawsuits.

In Scott v. Sandford[case]Scott v. Sandford[Scott v. Sandford] (1857), the Court denied Congress the power to outlaw slavery in any of the territories under federal jurisdiction and declared that no African American, free or slave, could ever be a citizen of the United States. This ruling was overturned by the Thirteenth AmendmentThirteenth Amendment (1865), which eliminated slavery, and the Fourteenth AmendmentFourteenth Amendment (1868), which conferred citizenship on every person born or naturalized in the United States.

The Sixteenth AmendmentSixteenth Amendment (1913) gave Congress the power to levy an income tax, overturning Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.[case]Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.[Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.] (1895), in which the Court had ruled such a tax unconstitutional. The Twenty-sixth AmendmentTwenty-sixth Amendment (1971), by granting eighteen-year-olds the right to vote in elections at all levels, overturned the Court’s ruling in Oregon v. Mitchell[case]Oregon v. Mitchell[Oregon v. Mitchell] (1970) that Congress could set age qualifications only for federal elections not for state and local elections.

Further Reading
  • Friendly, Fred, and Martha Elliott. The Constitution, That Delicate Balance. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.
  • Hall, Kermit, William Wiecek, and Paul Finkelman. American Legal History: Cases and Materials. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Chisholm v. Georgia

Eleventh Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment

Oregon v. Mitchell, Texas v. Mitchell, and United States v. Arizona

Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.

Reversals of Court decisions by Congress

Scott v. Sandford

Sixteenth Amendment

Thirteenth Amendment

Twenty-sixth Amendment

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