Supreme Mistakes: Legal scholars pick five worst U.S. Supreme Court rulings

By Kimberly Atkins

Dolan Media Newswires

Sometimes even the highest Court in the land can blunder, right?

Sure, according to a legal scholars who gathered recently at Pepperdine Law School to discuss the five worst Supreme Court rulings ever.

''These cases show that the Supreme Court does make mistakes, that the justices aren't infallible,'' said Tom Best, acting dean of Pepperdine's law school, according to the Los Angeles Times.

''They show that the justices will be subject to the same interests and pressures of society at the time they make decisions as any other American.''

Here are the rulings that the professors picked for the Hall of Shame:

Korematsu vs. United States, the 1944 case in which the justices upheld the evacuation order against Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

''One of the worst aspects of American history is that at times of crisis we compromise our most basic constitutional rights, and only in hindsight do we recognize that it didn't make us safer,'' said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine's law school.

Dred Scott vs. Sandford, the 1857 ruling by the Court that no one who is a descendant of a slave can be considered citizens who are protected by the Constitution.

''It was a deeply racist opinion that goes far out of its way to warmly embrace the institution of slavery,'' said Daniel Farber, a UC Berkeley law professor.

Plessy vs. Ferguson, the 1896 ruling by the Court upholding a Louisiana law requiring the racial segregation of railway passengers. The professors noted that bad rulings beget bad rulings: Plessy relied on Dred Scott as precedent, and Korematsu, in turn, relied on Plessy.

Buck v. Bell, the 1927 ruling that a Virginia law allowing the sexual sterilization of institutionalized people was constitutional. In that ruling, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously stated that ''three generations of imbeciles are enough.''

Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, a 1938 decision holding that federal judges can apply state substantive law, overturning longstanding precedent.

The legal scholars pointed out that the ruling not only deprived the plaintiff the ability to hold a railroad company responsible for his injuries, but it created a system where litigants can forum shop.

Published: Mon, May 2, 2011

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