Stare Decisis

Fundamental Cases on the Fourth Amendment by Adam J. McKee

Stare decisis has been translated from the Latin to mean “to stand by things decided.”  Stare decisis is a Latin term referring to the doctrine of precedence.  The doctrine means that when a legal issue has already been brought before the court and a ruling has been issued, the court will follow that previous ruling in all new cases with similar facts.  It also means that lower courts are obligated to follow the rulings set forth by the higher courts above them within the same jurisdiction.  Many legal authors consider the doctrine as the foundational principle of common law.  It is the reliance on precedence that makes common law legal systems much different from those systems based on the old Roman law.  Under common law systems, the courts play a much larger role in lawmaking.

It is best to consider stare decisis as establishing two related doctrines.  The first is that lower courts must follow the decisions of higher courts within the same jurisdiction.  In this situation, the doctrine is mandatory.  The doctrine also dictates that appellate courts abide by their past decisions when deciding new cases.  This, however, is not mandatory.  While it is relatively rare, courts can alter precedent by writing new decisions.  When an appellate court does away with an old precedent in a new decision, the obsolete case is said to have been overruled.

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Modification History

File Created: 07/30/2018
Last Modified:  08/10/2018



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