“The doctrine of stare decisis supplements the tribunals to reach the right decision in the circumstances of the moment”. Explain &Illustrate
Stare decisis is a legal principle by which judges are obliged to respect the precedents established by prior decisions. The words originate from the phrasing of the principle in the Latin maxim Stare decisis et non quieta movere: “to stand by decisions and not disturb the undisturbed.”
In a legal context, this is understood to mean that courts should generally abide by precedents and not disturb settled matters. It is a doctrine or policy of following rules or principles laid down in previous judicial decisions unless they contravene the ordinary principles of justice.
Stare decisis is the bedrock principle of the rule of law, to decide cases based on principle rather than on a preference for one or another of the parties before them, but it also serves importantly to reduce the politicization of the Court. It moderates ideological swings and preserves both the appearance and the reality that the Supreme Court is truly a legal rather than a political institution.” The doctrine also assists in providing equal treatment for those similarly situated. If, for example, John Doe is held liable to Susan Smith for doing something to her, then Richard Roe should be held liable for doing the same thing to Janet Jones. This is a very important part of the rule of law. Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts in a concurring opinion in the infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case from 2010, said, “Fidelity to precedent—the policy of stare decisis—is vital to the proper exercise of the judicial function.Stare decisis are the preferred course because it promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.”
In common law the doctrine under which courts adhere to precedent on questions of law in order to ensure certainty, consistency, and stability in the administration of justice. Since no court decision can have universal application, the courts, in practice, must often decide that a previous decision does not apply to a particular case even though the facts and issues appear to be closely similar. A strict application of stare decisis may lead to rigidity and to legal hairsplitting, whereas too much flexibility may result in uncertainty.
(1) The legal doctrine of stare decisis (literally to stand by things that have been settled) implies that courts should adhere to past legal precedent on issues of law when deciding pending cases.
Stare decisis as applied by the U.S. Supreme Court, is viewed upon as the nation’s highest doctrinal authority. A review of the Court’s jurisprudence yields two principal lessons about the modern doctrine of stare decisis. First, the doctrine is comprised largely of malleable factors that carry neither independent meaning nor predictive force. Second, most of the factors that populate the doctrine are best understood as evincing, either explicitly or implicitly, a driving concern with the reliance interests that could be upset by the decision to overrule a given precedent.
When stare decisis is reconceptualized in terms of these reliance implications, there emerges a blueprint for doctrinal reform. In short, it is suggested that the Court should begin by clearing away the distracting, indirect proxies for reliance that dominate the current jurisprudence. In their stead, the Court should construct a new framework that focuses directly, rigorously, and systematically on the fundamental reliance considerations themselves. Such an undertaking, it must be acknowledged, will present significant challenges. But embracing those challenges is necessary if we hope to move toward a doctrine of stare decisis that delivers on its longstanding promise to promote stability, coherence, and the rule of law.
Stare decisis has been called many things, among them “a principle of policy”, “a series of prudential and pragmatic considerations”, and simply “the preferred course”. Often overlooked is the fact that stare decisis is also a judicial doctrine, an analytical system used to guide the rules of decision for resolving concrete disputes that come before the courts.
By definition, ‘stare decisis’, is a general maxim that when a point has been settled by decision, it forms a precedent which is not afterwards to be departed from. The doctrine of stare decisis is not always to be relied upon, for the courts find it necessary to overrule cases which have been hastily decided, or contrary to principle. Many hundreds of such overruled cases may be found in the American and English books of reports.
(4) Frederick Schauer, Precedent, 39 Stan. L. Rev. 571, 572–73 (1987)
(5) LAURENCE H. TRIBE, THE INVISIBLE CONSTITUTION 208 (2008) (describing stare decisis as reflecting “a resolution to stand by [prior] rulings, at least presumptively, in the face of one’s belief that one probably would have decided differently”);
(6) Kozel, Randy J., Stare Decisis as Judicial Doctrine (Spring 2010). Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol. 67, No. 2, 2010.
An appeal court’s panel is “bound by decisions of prior panels unless an en banc decision, Supreme Court decision, or subsequent legislation undermines those decisions.”.Although the doctrine of stare decisis does not prevent reexamining and, if need be, overruling prior decisions, “It is a fundamental jurisprudential policy that prior applicable precedent usually must be followed even though the case, if considered anew, might be decided differently by the current justices. This policy . . . ‘is based on the assumption that certainty, predictability and stability in the law are the major objectives of the legal system; i.e., those parties should be able to regulate their conduct and enter into relationships with reasonable assurance of the governing rules of law. Accordingly, a party urging overruling a precedent faces a rightly onerous task, the difficulty of which is roughly proportional to a number of factors, including the age of the precedent, the nature and extent of public and private reliance on it, and its consistency or inconsistency with other related rules of law.
The principle of stare decisis was not always applied with uniform strictness. In medieval England, common-law courts looked to earlier cases for guidance, but they could reject those they considered bad law. Courts also placed less than complete reliance on prior decisions because there was a lack of reliable written reports of cases. Official reports of cases heard in various courts began to appear in the United States in the early 1800s, but semiofficial reports were not produced in England until 1865. When published reports became available, lawyers and judges finally had direct access to cases and could more accurately interpret prior decisions.
For stare decisis to be effective, each jurisdiction must have one highest court to declare what the law is in a precedent-setting case. The U.S. Supreme Court and the state supreme courts serve as precedential bodies, resolving conflicting interpretations of law or dealing with issues of first impression. Whatever these courts decide becomes judicial precedent.
(7) Henry Paul Monaghan, Stare Decisis and Constitutional Adjudication, 88 Colum. L. Rev. 723, 744–52 (1988)
(8) Moradi-Shalal v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Companies (1988) 46 Cal.3d 287, 296.
(9) Brewer, Scott. 1998. Precedents, Statutes, and Analysis of Legal Concepts. New York: Garland.
(10) (9) United States v. Washington, 872 F.2d 874, 880 (9th Cir. 1989)
In the United States, courts seek to follow precedent whenever possible, seeking to maintain stability and continuity in the law. Devotion to stare decisis is considered a mark of judicial restraint, limiting a judge’s ability to determine the outcome of a case in a way that he or she might choose if it were a matter of first impression. Take, for example, the precedent set in decision that defined a woman’s right to choose Abortion as a fundamental constitutional right. Despite the controversy engendered by the decision, and calls for its repudiation, a majority of the justices, including some conservatives who might have decided differently, have invoked stare decisis in succeeding abortion cases.
Nevertheless, the principle of stare decisis has always been tempered with a conviction that prior decisions must comport with notions of good reason or they can be overruled by the highest court in the jurisdiction.
There is a grand irony about stare decisis. The doctrine, which involves a court’s choice to stand by a precedent notwithstanding suspicions (or worse) about its wrongness, enjoys lofty status as the emblem of a stable judiciary. Indeed, the Supreme Court has lauded stare decisis as possessing “fundamental importance to the rule of law,” promoting “the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles,” and contributing to “the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process. Yet despite its billing, stare decisis has a remarkable tendency to incite disagreements that contradict the very principles it is supposed to foster. The Supreme Court’s treatment of stare decisis has yielded unusually scathing dissents lamenting that application of the doctrine is driven by outcome preferences and that “power, not reason” is the “currency of [the] Court’s decision making.” Troubling though they may be, these charges are hardly surprising. The Court repeatedly has cautioned that stare decisis is a flexible “principle of policy” as opposed to “an inexorable command.” Moreover, the catalog of factors that inform the stare decisis inquiry is lengthy and uncertain—befitting, one supposes, of a doctrine whose core is a fluctuating “series of prudential and pragmatic considerations.”
(11) Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 854 (1992); see also Fisch, supra note 5, at 94 (“Indeed, it is arguably a misnomer to describe stare decisis as a legal doctrine as well as perhaps misleading to describe precedents in terms of obligation.”).
(12) Kozel, Randy J., Stare Decisis as Judicial Doctrine (Spring 2010). Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol. 67, No. 2, 2010.
(13) Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 382 U.S. 111, 116 (1965)
The sheer number of these considerations, combined with the fact that the Court often selects a few items from the catalog without explaining how much work is being done by each, makes it difficult even to find a starting point for thinking critically about stare decisis as a judicial doctrine. The modern doctrine of stare decisis is essentially indeterminate. The various factors that drive the doctrine are largely devoid of independent meaning or predictive force. Fairly or not, this weakness exposes the Court to criticism for appearing results-oriented in its application of stare decisis.
Another approach to analyzing stare decisis is forward-looking, and it provides the groundwork for transforming stare decisis into something more predictable, meaningful, and theoretically coherent. Most of the considerations that populate the Court’s current jurisprudence are best understood—or, perhaps, reimagined—as efforts to gauge the reliance interests that would be affected by the decision to overrule a given precedent. There is no inherent problem with such a focus. To the contrary, reliance interests are a critical part of what gives stare decisis its value; precedents are among the key “materials on which the community necessarily places its principal reliance in trying to figure out what the ‘law’ is.”
There are however many arguments surrounding the notion of “Stare decisis” such as that whenever courts exercise discretion, they are afflicted by a time-inconsistency problem that potentially generates a present-bias in their behavior. Stare decisis is then a device that works in two ways. The first is mechanical, much as Cardozo (1921) has it. Precedents, if they have evolved in the right direction” will often bind the Courts to avoid the temptation to be present-biased. The second is that welfare-maximizing Courts, when they are not bound by precedents, will have an incentive not to succumb to their present-bias temptation because of the effect of their decision on future litigants via stare decisis. This trade-off between the effects of current and future decisions is a fundamental part of the \serious business” that Cardozo (1921) refers to above.
(14) Frederick Schauer, Precedent, 39 STAN. L. REV. 571, 576 (1987). Professor Schauer.
(15) Caleb Nelson, Stare Decisis and Demonstrably Erroneous Precedents, 87 VA. L. REV. 1, 8 (2001)
It is not just the legislative and executive branches that rely on Supreme Court precedent. It is also the judiciary, including the Supreme Court itself. This reliance leads to the creation of doctrinal structures in which one precedent builds on another that builds on another. If a foundational precedent—one on which many others depend—were to be overruled, an entire structure could waver or topple, upsetting settled expectations and creating widespread uncertainty about the state of the law.
In simple terms “Stare Decisis” is a doctrine under which judges “stand on decided cases” or follows the rule of precedent – in deciding an existing case. The purpose of having this is to ensure uniformity and consistency in the decision made by the judges. By having so, it simply means that if a judge is replaced by another, the new judge should not make a decision in total contradiction to that made by the previous judge. This will eventually lead to a lot of ambiguity and confusion. However, the existence of “Stare Decisis” doesn’t religiously follow the fact that a decision once made is made forever. If required a previous decision can be overruled provided that the court finds convincing enough facts to support that the previous decision made was wrong or the current scenario has drastically changed to fit in with the previous decision.
(16) Henry Paul Monaghan, Stare Decisis and Constitutional Adjudication, 88 COLUM. L. REV. 723, 762 (1988)
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Parisi, F., & Depoorter, B. (2003). Legal precedents and judicial discretion. In C. K. Rowley & F. Schneider (Eds.), Encyclopedia of public choice (pp. 341–343). Amsterdam: Kluwer.
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