Words worth defending: stare decisis
After Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade, I kept hearing mentions of an unfamiliar term, stare decisis.
I had to look it up, but as usual, that’s a signal to me that a word or term needs defending — it needs to get out in the sun and get some use. Stare decisis is just such a term. Thus, I looked it up so you won’t have to.
Google’s definition, provided by Oxford Languages, is “the legal principle of determining points in litigation according to precedent.”
Precedent. Most of the country remembers that, if six people in Washington, D.C., don’t.
No wonder editorial commenters are saying that stare decisis is threatened by the Dobbs decision — and the EPA decision, and the promise of others to come.
I’ve read or heard in several places that Chief Justice John Roberts is an incrementalist, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a policy or advocacy of a policy of political or social change by degrees.” I could be wrong, but it doesn’t look like he had much influence over Dobbs.
Granted, if something is obviously unconstitutional to a majority of people, it deserves overturning. But stare decisis means “to stand by things decided” in Latin. The exception is when “they contravene the ordinary principles of justice,” according to Merriam-Webster.
There is arguing ahead, some of it on First Amendment grounds since the protected “free exercise of religion” means that some religious groups disagree with the limits the states are now allowed to impose according to Dobbs.
Let’s hope that stare decisis still holds in First Amendment cases, or we’re sunk.
Words Worth Defending
Meet The Blogger
Margaret H. Laing
I moved to Chicago from the south suburbs in 1986. I have diverse interests, but I love writing about what I’m interested in. Whether it’s a personal interest or part of my career, the correct words to get the idea across are important to me. I love words and languages — French and Scottish words enrich my American English. My career has included years as a journalist and years working in museums, and the two phases were united by telling stories. I’m serious about words and stories. So here I am, ready to tell stories about words and their languages.
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