Case Law: The Power of Precedent

Case law is a body of law that is based on judicial decisions from previous cases. It is also known as common law. Case law is used to interpret statutes and regulations, and to develop new legal principles.

The principle of stare decisis is the foundation of case law. Stare decisis is a Latin phrase that means “let the decision stand.” It is the principle that courts should follow the decisions of previous courts in similar cases. This ensures that the law is applied consistently and fairly.

Case law is created when a court issues a decision in a case. The court’s decision is published in a law report, which can be accessed by lawyers and judges. When a court is considering a new case, it will look at previous cases that have been decided in similar situations. The court will follow the precedent set by the previous cases, unless there is a good reason to do otherwise.

Case law is important because it provides certainty and predictability to the law. It also helps to ensure that the law is fair and equitable. Case law is used in all areas of law, including civil law, criminal law, and constitutional law.

Here are some examples of case law:

  • In the case of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a woman has a constitutional right to abortion. This decision has been followed by courts in all states.
  • In the case of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court of the United States held that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. This decision has led to the desegregation of public schools throughout the country.
  • In the case of Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court of the United States held that police must inform suspects of their rights before they can question them. This decision has been followed by police departments throughout the country.

Case law is a dynamic and evolving body of law. Courts are constantly making new decisions that interpret statutes, regulations, and develop new legal principles. Case law is an essential part of the legal system, and it plays a vital role in ensuring that the law is fair, equitable, and predictable.

How to Find Case Law

Case law can be found in a number of sources, including:

  • Law reports: Law reports are published collections of court decisions.
  • Case databases: Case databases are electronic databases that contain court decisions.
  • Legal websites: Many legal websites provide access to case law.

To find case law, you will need to know the name of the case and the court that decided the case. You can search for case law using a legal search engine, such as Westlaw or LexisNexis.

Once you have found a case, you can read the court’s decision to learn about the facts of the case, the legal issues that were raised, and the court’s reasoning. Case law can be a valuable resource for lawyers, judges, and anyone who wants to learn more about the law.