What are the types of decisions of the Supreme Court that can be overruled by Congress?

In some countries, when the Supreme Court makes decision on any matter, it cannot be reversed by any lower court or authority. But this is not totally true because, in some cases, the decision of the Supreme Court can be overruled by the parliament.


I was reading this and I found out that in some situations the decision of the Supreme Court can be overruled by Congress. I thought the judiciary and the legislative were independent of one another, so to learn that the legislative can overturn a decision of the judiciary was surprising to me. In what situations can this happen?

2 Answers 2


Many (most?) cases the US Supreme Court hears are about what an act of Congress means. For instance, the 2020 case of Facebook v. Duguid was about whether Facebook's two-factor authentication violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991's rules about autodialers. The law defines an "automatic telephone dialing system" as something that has the capacity to "store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator." Facebook argued that this means it has to store random numbers or produce random numbers, while Duguid argued that it had to store any numbers or produce random numbers (both sides agreed that Facebook wasn't doing anything with random phone numbers). The Supreme Court held that it meant "store random numbers or produce random numbers."

If Congress doesn't like the Supreme Court's decision in Facebook v. Duguid, it can change the law to say "store telephone numbers or produce random telephone numbers." The Supreme Court wasn't saying anything about the Constitution, they just said "here's what Congress meant when they wrote this law." In those sorts of cases, Congress can easily change the law to say "we actually meant something else."

  • Correct answer, but I'd argue Congress changing the law is more like saying, "Well, whatever it may or may not have been saying before, now we mean this." Congress isn't a monolith, and its quite possible at least some of the votes for the previous law were with the same understanding of its meaning that SCOTUS ended up ruling.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 20:47
  • This is true, but note that this does not overturn the existing decision; it just changes the rule going forward. Article I, Section IX of the Constitution prevents the modification from having retroactive effect (since that would make it an ex post facto law) or simply declaring Facebook guilty of violating it (since that would make it a bill of attainder). So this may not be exactly the scenario that the OP is asking about.
    – ruakh
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 23:31

The Supreme Court in the US (along with the court system in general) has two functions:

  • It interprets laws written by legislatures within specific cases, to settle disagreements about the meaning and scope of the law and ensure that the law is applied uniformly across cases
  • It interprets the US Constitution to ensure that laws written by legislatures fall within the boundaries set out by the original founding document and its amendments

Once the Supreme Court has ruled on something, that ruling becomes a 'fact' of US law, which cannot be countermanded by anyone except the Supreme Court itself (in some later ruling). However, the court system does not write laws; it only interprets and limits them. Any Supreme Court ruling made at the state or the federal level can ostensibly be circumvented or obviated through new law written by Congress or state legislatures. For example, the Voting Rights Act was passed into law in 1965. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that some provisions of that law were unconstitutional, for a specific set of reasons. This leaves four possible outcomes:

  • The Supreme Court's decision will stand, and those sections of the VRA will be unenforceable
  • The Supreme Court will revisit the case and reverse its decision, reinstating some or all of those sections
  • Congress will revise the VRA, reenacting it with changes in the wording that get around the Court's legal arguments
  • Congress will write new law that supersedes the VRA and takes a new approach to preserving voting rights

In the last two cases, whatever Congress does must pragmatically conform to what the Supreme Court previously ruled (or it will be quickly and successfully challenged in court), but it will explicitly be the law of the land until some case brings it before the Supreme Court for review.

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