Constitutional FAQ Answer #16
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Q16. "I have been on the net for about an hour
reading all I can find about informal changes which have occurred in the
Constitution during the last 200 years. Which kind of change, formal or
informal, have been most important in our history?"
A. An "Informal Change" or "Informal Amendment" to the Constitution is one
where the interpretation of the Constitution is changed by a Supreme Court
ruling, rather than by a formal constitutional amendment.
There are some truly momentous Supreme Court decisions in our history -
Marbury v Madison, Dredd Scott, Miranda, Brown v Board of Education, Roe v
Wade. Recently, I find FCC v Pacifica (1978) fascinating, Hustler v Falwell
(1988) is also interesting, and Webster v Reproductive Health (1989) is
interesting in what it could have been but wasn't.
For example, in the Plessy v Ferguson, the Court ruled that blacks and
whites could have separate public facilities, including schools, as long as
those facilities were equal. This "separate but equal" interpretation of the
14th Amendment was overthrown by the Brown v Board ruling that declared the
separate but equal theory unconstitutional.
In the more "formal" arena, the Bill of Rights have a tremendous effect on
Americans' every days lives. Aside from these first
ten amendments, I think the 14th amendment
is one of the biggest.