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Case Law

Next to appeals court is the Supreme Court in every state jurisdiction who decides on the appeals against the decisions of the Appeals Courts. Above the State Supreme Court is the federal, i.e the U.S. Supreme Court which can hear appeals against the decisions of the State Supreme Court and the decisions of the U.S. Circuit court of Appeals.1
This paper enquires into what extent doctrine of precedent depends on the hierarchy of courts. Otherwise called stare decisis, it enjoins the lower courts to follow their superior courts' decisions in matters of law and in a way it is an implied mandate of superior courts which the lower courts are bound to follow. The idea of following the precedents is to have uniformity in decisions though not at the cost of justice. Besides, the principle of stare decisis enables stability and predictability of law's directions so that one can plan for future actions. Question arises whether the lower court (constrained court) should blindly follow the superior court's (precedent court's) dictum or situations can arise wherein the constrained court can not simply follow the precedent in a unique condition. For example the precedent court faced with facts A, B, and C decides in favour of the plaintiff. In a later case, the constrained court finds fact C is absent and hence whether it can decide for defendant. It depends on the narrow or wide interpretation of the precedent's court's obiter dicta by the constrained court. The narrow interpretation could be that it could decide in favour of plaintiff when both facts A and C are present. Hence following this, the constrained court can not rule in favour of the plaintiff. Wide interpretation could be that precedent court intended that whatever be the case whether with or without C, if fact A exists, the plaintiff shall prevail. But there is difference of opinion in this regards among the legal analysts. They posit that precedent court should not only cite a set of facts but also formulate rules of law so that the constrained court can decide based upon rules rather than on facts alone. Thus the precedent court's reasoning behind the dicta will guide the constrained court to go in for a narrow or wide interpretation of the precedent. Possible objections to this stand are; 1) Courts do not always state what the rule is, and 2) if the courts are expected to formulate rules, then they become legislators and not judges. The first one exhorts judges to write clear opinions and the second objection is rather correct since judges end up making new laws. Legal theorists feel that judicial precedents can not be considered to be binding or constraining as there are bound to be factual differences between the precedents and the constrained cases. The lower court judges are free to point out the difference and make their own judgement stating that the precedent does not apply to a particular case. Nevertheless, in order to differ from the precedent, the lower court will work their way up very hard to find ground from the narrow compass of factual difference. This argument is to justify ignoring the one that is seemingly precedential but is really not. The question that this paper attempts to find answer for is that whether a lower court which is constrained can justify overruling a settled precedent. There are vertical ...Show more


In the U.S., hierarchy of courts comprises of District Courts, Appeals Courts, and Supreme Court in both State and Federal Jurisdictions. District courts, whose main function is to make findings of facts, should follow the precedents of their higher courts namely Appeals Courts and Supreme Court…
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Case Law essay example
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