Fact-check: Was overturning Roe v. Wade an 'unconstitutional action' by the Supreme Court?

·2 min read

Karine Jean-Pierre: Overturning Roe v. Wade was an “unconstitutional action” by the Supreme Court.

PolitiFact's ruling: False

Here's why: White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre took the Supreme Court to task for its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but she went too far in an Aug. 3 briefing by suggesting the court overstepped its authority.

Jean-Pierre was responding to a question suggesting the White House had been slow in issuing executive orders on abortion access.

"But, look, there has been an urgency from this president from day one when the Supreme Court made this extreme decision to take away a constitutional right," Jean-Pierre said. "It was an unconstitutional action by them, a right that was around for almost 50 years, a right that women had to make a decision on their bodies and how they want to start their families."

Critics took a shot at Jean-Pierre’s assertion that overturning Roe v. Wade was an "unconstitutional action" by the Supreme Court. A reader asked us to look at her statement, so we did.

Although many Americans have joined Jean-Pierre and the Biden White House in disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, it is widely accepted that the court was acting within its powers.

"The court does not act ‘unconstitutionally’ when it interprets the Constitution," said Timothy Zick, a constitutional law professor at William & Mary Law School. Zick cited the landmark precedent in the case Marbury v. Madison. In 1803, the court wrote that "it is emphatically the duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is."

"There is no question the court had the power to do what it did" in overturning Roe v. Wade, Zick said.

The White House told PolitiFact that Jean-Pierre misspoke. Legal experts we contacted generally cut her some slack.

"She probably meant to say just that the court’s decision was ‘unconstitutional’ in the sense of being wrong, and a flawed interpretation of the Constitution," said Ilya Somin, a George Mason University law professor.

Our ruling

Jean-Pierre said overturning Roe v. Wade was an "unconstitutional action" by the Supreme Court.

Ever since the 1803 Marbury v. Madison ruling, the Supreme Court has asserted its right to offer the final word on judicial interpretation. So although Jean-Pierre may disagree with the court’s decision, legal scholars say that the justices clearly had the right under the Constitution to rule as they did.

We rate the statement False.

Our Sources

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Fact-check: Was overturning Roe v. Wade an 'unconstitutional action'?