LETTER: Supreme Court only supreme in its authority, not its judgment

Courts have the task of making judgments that interpret the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has final authority in making these judgments.

In many legal decisions, one of the parties perceives the court to be correct and the other party perceives the court to have made an egregious error.

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not have the power to prohibit slavery in the territories of the United States.

The court reasoned a slave was property and territorial law could not separate a slave from his owner (the Dred Scott decision).

Abraham Lincoln, having spent a lot of time with judges and having himself occasionally sat on the bench, observed, according to The Lincoln Reader, that “judicial decisions are of a greater or less authority as precedents according to circumstances. That this should be so accords with both common sense and the customary understanding of the legal profession.”

He also noted that the Supreme Court often overruled its own decisions and said, “We shall do what we can to have it overrule this.”

A few years later as president, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and presided over the armies of the North in the Civil War.

In effect, through the Emancipation Proclamation, he did quite a lot to overrule the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision.

We might take our cue from Lincoln by putting aside our fear, passivity, cynicism and comfort and be involved in confronting the evils of today.

The Supreme Court is only supreme in its authority, not in its judgments.

Terry Trudel,

Port Angeles