The precedent gap of Supreme Court justices has caused many professors in the law school and political science department to examine how they teach constitutional law and the judicial process.
That’s the answer of Amanda Savage, an associate professor of political science at Loyola University Chicago and a former undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Minnesota, when asked if she thought she would see Roe vs. Wade overthrown during his lifetime.
As a professor of constitutional law, Savage said she always told students the Supreme Court would never overturn Roe vs. Wade.
“I thought they were scared enough of their own legitimacy to never do it,” Savage said. “I’m as shocked as anyone and I’ve had a dozen emails from students saying ‘but wait, you promised’.”
The decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade and its impacts on the political climate in the United States lead many law school and political science department professors to change the way they teach students about constitutional law and the Supreme Court.
Jill Hasday, a law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School whose expertise includes constitutional law and legal history, said the Supreme Court’s decision was “striking,” but not necessarily surprising. .
“Many people in very powerful positions … have explicitly stated for years that they seek to appoint judges who would overthrow deer“, Hasday said. “It was still a shock because the reversal Roe vs. Wade in one fell swoop, it’s a huge expenditure of institutional capital by the Supreme Court.
The Dobbs vs. Jackson decision, which effectively annulled Roe vs. Wade and referred the abortion legality ruling to the states, argues that abortion regulation is subject to rational scrutiny, according to Hasday. This means that if a state legislature is going to pass a law that might violate someone’s liberty, the government should have a rational reason for doing so.
With the Dobbs ruling, the Court said the desire to protect fetal life counts as a rational reason, said Timothy Johnson, a political science professor at the University.
“You don’t need a higher standard…you just need to have a really good reason,” Johnson said. “And protecting life is clearly rational according to the Court.”
Johnson and Savage, one of his former graduate students, worked together to modify their lectures in their legal procedure courses at the University and at Loyola.
“[Savage] and I’m fundamentally changing our lectures on precedents because it’s unclear how powerful precedents will be from now on,” Johnson said. “It’s something students need to learn.”
Savage said that in constitutional law courts, the first lesson often deals with the notion that precedent is a rule or standard that the Supreme Court follows most of the time. Savage taught his students that judges rarely deviate from precedent.
“With new cases being decided, I’ve noticed students raising their hands and going, ‘but wait, they didn’t follow that rule at all,'” Savage said.
Now that these justices are deviating from their own ideas of precedent, Savage has had to rework the way she teaches her classes due to increased political polarization in the current court.
“We’re asking the wrong question, because we’re treating precedent like this rule that judges break when it doesn’t look so much like that anymore,” she said. “It seems precedent is a strategic tool they use when it’s for ideological advantage.”
Hasday said the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade will change the way he teaches his classes, “without a doubt”. She is currently deciding where she wants to put the Dobbs vs. Jackson decision in his program.
“My current thought is to put it towards the end as I think this stunning decision deer may be a harbinger of what’s to come,” Hasday said. “Students might be in a better position to understand this position, having read previous precedents which now seem more unstable than two weeks ago.”
Many teachers agreed that Dobbs vs. Jackson decision would shift the focus to state legislatures to protect civil rights.
“If you have a problem, you go to the Supreme Court to defend your rights,” Savage said. “[Now], perhaps you rather think that the Supreme Court cannot help me, it is a political institution. Maybe I’ll go fight in the state legislatures. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, I think relying less on the Court to sort out political issues is a good thing.
Andrew Karch, professor of political science at the University, said he would use the trends from the Dobbs decision to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of issues of power at the state level in his lectures on federalism, a system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government.
“I think a lot of what happened this term reinforces one of the themes of this course — federalism, in many ways, is used instrumentally,” Karch said. “If a political group or party has power at the national level, it favors national solutions, if it has no power at the national level, it favors state-level solutions.”
Overall, trust in government is declining and has been for some time, which doesn’t bode well for the political atmosphere in the United States, Karch said.
“It’s not a very healthy trend for American democracy,” Karch said. “There could be serious trouble on the horizon.”