Essay:25 Worst Court Decisions

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The vast majority of the "25 Worst Court Decisions" involved some deception, impropriety or inadequate scholarship, as discussed in the footnotes. (All decisions are by the U.S. Supreme Court except where noted; rulings overturned by the court system are not included.)

U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, 25th below, could be reversed by the new Supreme Court post-Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was essential to the 5-4 majority.

At least 5 out of these 25 worse decisions, or 20%, were urged by the ACLU,[1] as noted below.

  1. Roe v. Wade (and Doe v. Bolton) (1973) ("legalized" abortion)[2]
  2. Wickard v. Filburn (1942) (granted Congress power to prohibit growing wheat on your own land) and turned the Commerce Clause on its head.[3]
  3. Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) (authorized slavery & denied citizenship to blacks)[4]
  4. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (upheld racial segregation)
  5. Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (Mass. Sup. Ct. 2003) (mandated same-sex "marriage")[5]
  6. Engel v. Vitale (1962) (banned prayer in public school)[6]
  7. Buck v. Bell (1927) (approved of forced sterilization of low-IQ women)[7]
  8. Plyler v. Doe (1982) (mandated that all illegal immigrants be given free education in public schools)
  9. Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) ("legalized" partial-birth abortion)[8]
  10. Roper v. Simmons (2005) (cited foreign law to prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed by 17-year-olds)
  11. Kelo v. City of New London (2005) (expanded eminent domain)
  12. Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) (used to justify eliminating religion from public life)[9]
  13. Romer v. Evans (1996) (holding unconstitutional a Colorado referendum prohibiting special laws favoring homosexuals)
  14. Lawrence v. Texas (2003) (struck down sodomy laws, allowing immoral conduct)[10]
  15. Stone v. Graham (1980) (banned the Ten Commandments from display in public school)[11]
  16. Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) (prohibited limitations on evolution indoctrination in public schools)[12]
  17. Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) (banned scientific evidence of creation from public schools)[13]
  18. Baker v. Carr (1962) (one man one vote)
  19. Missouri v. Jenkins (1985) (upheld 1990) (ordered tax increase for school)
  20. Montoy v. Kansas (Kan. Sup. Ct. 2005) (ordered tax increase for school)
  21. Mapp v. Ohio (1961) (required criminal courts to exclude evidence if seized improperly)
  22. United States v. Callender (upheld the Sedition Act)
  23. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) (created a "right to privacy" not present in the Constitution which has been used to justify abortion and sodomy)
  24. Block v. Hirsh (1921) (declared rent control to be constitutional despite deprivation of rights of property owners)
  25. U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) (by a 5-4 vote, the Court declared it unconstitutional for states to limit terms for their congressmen)


  2. Neither woman in these cases actually wanted an abortion, and both later attempted unsuccessfully to have these decisions overturned. The ACLU filed a brief to request these decisions. Roe v. Wade, which was never legal as it was ruled on by liberal activist judges who acted outside their mandate and overreached their power, was officially overturned on June 24, 2022 as a result of the ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, returning the regulation of abortion to the individual states.
  4. The Court far exceeded the controversy before it in its ruling. President James Buchanan reportedly had sought this decision privately with the Court, and the decision was rendered two days after his inauguration.
  5. The lead plaintiffs separated about two years after getting "married"
  6. The Court cited no precedential holding in its entire opinion. This was an ACLU case.
  7. The case was based on a fraudulent claim that the woman was mentally retarded.
  8. The Court invalidated the partial-birth abortion laws even though they had never been applied, contrary to its ruling in United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745 (1987), that a facial challenge to a statute can succeed only if there are no circumstances in which the statute may be applied constitutionally. The Court did not even cite or distinguish the Salerno precedent.
  9. Chief Justice Warren Burger, who later lamented hostility to religion, wrote the Lemon decision for the Court but admitted privately in a dinner conversation with Andrew Schlafly in late 1991 that Burger never intended for it to be applied in the broad manner that it was.
  10. This case was a set-up whereby a false claim of a felony was reported to the police in order to compel an arrest in someone's apartment.
  11. The Court issued a 5-4 unsigned (per curiam) decision without hearing argument on the merits of the case. This was an ACLU case.
  12. Justice Abe Fortas wrote this opinion only weeks after he was rejected by the Senate for improprieties in his nomination to become Chief Justice,[1] and as a new scandal was lurking that led to Chief Justice Earl Warren telling him to resign. This opinion was released a mere 27 days after oral argument, which is much quicker than usual. This was an ACLU case.
  13. This was an ACLU case.