The "Assisted Suicide" decision of the supreme court can be looked at a number of ways. [Slate] [wsj]
I suggest that there are a number of levels upon which the court can decide a case and that if the court decides the law is illegal on one level, then it makes no judgement on the case at "lower levels"
- Stare Decisis (wikipedia) -- The decision was already made in a similar case and should not be changed because: a) External conditions have not changed b) The application of the law is practical c) It is not too wrongly decided that it must be reconsidered.
- Letter of the Law -- The law being considered is "clearly" inappropriately applied.
- State vs Nation -- There are conflicting laws, State and Federal, and it is clear that this is an area in which the State or Federal law is applicable, e.g. Federalism vs. Commerce clause, Implementation of Constitutional rights, etc.
- Constitutional -- The law is in conflict with the constitution
- Morality -- There is a moral/religious principal that the law violates
- Liberty -- The law limits the liberty of the citizens.
Note: people can state that they do not think that the court should decide on the basis of Morality and Liberty and that the Constitution's text and Will of the People should be the ultimate authority. -- For these people, if a law is immoral or restrictive that it should be eliminated by the legislatures, direct democracy, or the amendment process.
Note: it seems that the Assisted Suicide case was generally decided on the basis of "2)" e.g. the Federal law was not written to deal with the use of legal drugs for the purpose of suicide, and thus the State Law was not in conflict. On the other hand: Thomis decided that the Federal Law should take precidence, based on Stare Desisis, "1)" as the California law was similar enough, and Schela and Roberts decided that the Federal law was sufficiently broad to cover the case and that the federal law could "trump" the State law, "3)", based on I assume the comerce clause.