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When the U.S. Supreme Court decides something, does it apply everywhere right away or do we have to wait until laws are passed?

Either way, what part of the Constitution says that, or which laws? Links please.

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Short Answer

  • Yes, Supreme Court decisions apply everywhere right away. (Unless the decision says it doesn't.)
  • No, we do not have to wait until new laws are passed.

Explanation

Judicial Review

Marbury v. Madison (1803) established the principle of judicial review under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. This allows the court[s] to interpret laws passed by legislatures. And this is the basis for applying the ruling everywhere (in the U.S.) immediately.

From Marbury at 178:

if a law be in opposition to the Constitution [...] the Court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty. [...] the Constitution of the United States confirms [...] that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void, and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.

Judicial Restraint

(Nominally) courts either interpret or invalidate existing law. In the former case, the law will persist (with the new clarity added by the decision). In the latter, the law will be struck as unconstitutional and, therefore, no longer exist.

  • So in other terms, a ruling from the Supreme Court that invalidates a law goes into application right away. And the default is to allow everything (except when laws prohibit it). So by invalidating a law we really allow something. And we don't have to wait. Thanks! – Emmanuel Sep 11 '15 at 20:37
  • @Mowzer: The case you cite, didn't give them the power to negate a Law. "Interpret" here means to refine the Law towards the ideals of the Law. – Mark Rosenblitt-Janssen Oct 7 '15 at 4:56
  • Although there many and notable exceptions... generally, courts tend not to "refine" or "edit" laws to make them constitutional. Courts tend to consider that behavior on par with lawmaking which is a power constitutionally reserved exclusively for the legislature. Therefore, courts tend to only either strike or interpret laws. Again, we can all cite many and notable exceptions. – Mowzer Oct 8 '15 at 22:42
  • @Emmanuel Some Supreme Court decisions even have "retroactive effect" and other Supreme Court decisions are only effective "prospectively" (e.g. a finding that conduct is unconstitutional in a case where qualified immunity protects the people who acted unconstitutionally). The body of law governing the temporal scope of a U.S. Supreme Court decision is technical and complex even though this answer accurately states the general rule. – ohwilleke Jul 16 '18 at 23:50

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