Congress can always change the law if it chooses. For example, it passed the 1991 Civil Rights Act, which overturned many Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But you would never know that from reading Virginia Senator Jim Webb’s letter today in the Wall Steely Journal. In it, Webb defends his vote against a Republican amendment to block EPA regulation of carbon dioxide, an amendment supported by many Virginians because the EPA’s regulation of carbon dioxide would wipe out thousands of Virginia jobs in industries that emit carbon dioxide. (Carbon dioxide is the gas needed by plants to conduct photosynthesis. It is not poisonous or dirty, and humans emit carbon dioxide every time they breathe.)
Webb claims he voted against the amendment because the amendment would have been “a violation of the Supreme Court holding in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency,” a case that interpreted a provision of the Clean Air Act to potentially expand the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
The amendment would have greatly reduced future energy costs, thus saving countless jobs. In 2008, President Obama admitted that under his greenhouse gas regulations, people’s utility bills would “skyrocket,” and coal-fired power plants would go “bankrupt.” The EPA’s own internal documents show that the administration’s global warming regulations will result in a massive “loss of steel, paper, aluminum, chemical, and cement manufacturing jobs.”
While liberals like Webb claim that statutory interpretations favored by liberals can’t be overruled without “violating” Supreme Court rulings, they are quite happy to overturn statutory interpretations favored by conservatives, even when those interpretations are the product of a Supreme Court ruling.
For example, Webb voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a 2007 Supreme Court ruling in response to a liberal PR campaign that demonized the Supreme Court by making false claims about that decision. (That decision did not, in fact, require most pay discrimination claims to be brought right after the pay discrimination began, contrary to liberal claims; and the plaintiff in Ledbetter v. Goodyear had known for years of the pay disparity she later sued over, as the National Journal’s Stuart Taylor, the National Review’s Ed Whelan, and lawyers David Copus and Paul Mirengoff have noted, contrary to false claims that she suddenly discovered the pay disparity just before suing over it).
Similarly, the 1991 Civil Rights Act passed by a Democratic Congress overturned not just conservative Supreme Court rulings, but even liberal Supreme Court rulings that were deemed insufficiently liberal, like portions of the Supreme Court’s 1989 Price Waterhouse decision!
The argument that a statute, once interpreted by the courts, can bar a later statute designed to amend it, is bizarre, but it is increasingly made by liberals. For example, Wisconsin’s new law limiting collective bargaining was enjoined by a trial judge with ties to Wisconsins unions based on the claim that it conflicted with an earlier-passed Open Meetings Law, even though exceptions in that law appeared to apply, and even though a state law can only block future municipal laws, not future state laws. (By “state law,” I mean a statute; statutes can’t block future statutes, but a state constitutional provision can block contrary state statutes, since constitutions override contrary statutes.)