Originally Posted by BroncoBeavis
I'm pretty sure the Supreme Court has referenced the Declaration for precedent on more than one occasion.
While the Supreme Court may reference the Declaration of Independence in a decision, please remember that the responsibility of the Supreme Court is to determine whether something is constitutional.
They may use the Declaration as a guide for interpreting certain situations and determining how the Constitution applies to a given case. But the only legal document the Supreme Court is concerned about is the Constitution. At the end of the day, all the bills passed, all the executive orders issued by the executive branch, all of the regulations issued by the various agencies and departments are nothing more than items fleshing out as detailed in the Constitution, which is why the Supreme Court exists in the first place. Their only job is to make sure that local, state and federal governments are operating within the bounds of the US Constitution. The only thing the Supreme Court is bound to is the Constitution. Not even their own precedent is legally binding on them.
The way you can see this very clearly is to look at Plessy v. Ferguson
, which was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education
. If precedent were legally binding, it would have taken an Amendment to the Constitution to take effect. Most often, Supreme Court justices who claim to follow an originalist or strict interpretation of the Constitution use the Declaration as a primary source document to help them infer the Founders' opinions on situations not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. It's not precedent in the sense of previous case law, and previous case law isn't even legally binding. The Court likes observe stare decisis
in most situations in order to preserve some sort of consistency, but that's a function of court procedure and tradition, not the legal framework of how the court actually works. In many cases, the most important decisions the Court has handed down are instances where they have abandoned stare decisis
all together (cf. Brown v. Board
, Roe v. Wade
, Bush v. Gore
, Lawrence v. Texas
At the end of the day, the Supreme Court makes a decision based off what the Constitution says, not what the Declaration of Independence or any other document says.
With all that said, you have to ask yourself why, if the idea that rights are God-given were so important to the Framers, that they completely left God out of the actual document.