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Overturned Supreme Court Rulings

Only the Supreme Court can overrule the Supreme Court. In some cases the Court will expressly overrule a prior decision. In other cases the overruling must be deduced from the change in reasoning underlying the two decisions.

Lochner v. New York (1905) and Atkins v. Children's Hospital (1923) overturned by West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937).

In Lochner the Court struck down a New York law limiting to 60 the number of hours a baker could work. The Court held that the law infringed on the right of individuals to freely enter into contracts in violation of the 14th Amendment, which provides that "any State [shall not] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."  In Atkins, the Court struck down a D.C. law setting a minimum wage for female workers on similar grounds.

In Parrish, however, the Court upheld a State of Washington minimum wage law, concluding that the 14th Amendment did not expressly guarantee freedom of contract, and that such freedom could be limited by reasonable laws designed to protect a worker's health and safety.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) overturned by Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

In Plessy, the Court by a 7-1 decision upheld the constitutionality of state segregation laws under the "separate but equal" doctine. The law challenged in that case was a State of Louisiana statute that required blacks and whites to sit in separate railroad cars. Writing for the majority, Justice Henry Brown declared "we consider the underlying fallacy of Plaintff's argument to consist in the assumption that the forced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it." In dissent, Justice Marshall Harlan wrote -- "The destinies of the two races in the country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of all require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degrated that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens. That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana."

Fifty-eight years later, the Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education that the doctrine of separate but equal has no place under the Constitution. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the Court:

"Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive  the people of the minority group of equal eduacational opportunities? We believe that it does. ... Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of law, for the policy of separating the children is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of the child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. ... We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place."

Valentine v. Chrestensen (1942) held that the First Amendment did not protect commercial speech. Overruled by Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (1976).

Minersville School District v. Gibitis (1940) held that a public school could expel students who refused to salute the flag because they were Jehovah's Witnesses. The decision was overruled three years later in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).

Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) overruled by Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

The Court in Bowers upheld by a 5-4 vote a Georgia law that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults (regardless of the sex of the individuals involved). Less than 20 years later, in Lawrence v. Texas, the Court voted 6-3 to expressly overrule Bowers. "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today."

Other Supreme Court decisions have been overturned by constitutional amendment. For example, in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), the Court ruled 6-3 that the decendants of Africans who were imported to this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and thus could not claim any of the rights and privileges secured by the Constitution. After a bloody civil war, this decision was overruled by enactment of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The 13th Amendment bans slavery. The 14th Amendment provides in relevant part that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

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