Conservative Stare Decisis on the Roberts Court: A Jurisprudence of Doubt

Morgan Johnson - UC Davis School of Law
Vol. 55
February 2022
Page 1953

Stare decisis is a core principle of the American legal system, one older than the Constitution itself. However, despite its foundational status, when and how stare decisis is applied to prior decisions has remained elusive, especially for constitutional, rather than statutory, interpretation decisions. Prior to Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, there was “no predictable pattern” to new decisions that overruled prior constitutional precedent. A plurality of Justices in Casey attempted to articulate a consistent approach to the stare decisis analysis, which involved the consideration of several “prudential and pragmatic” factors used to determine if there is some “special reason over and above the belief that a prior case was wrongly decided” to overrule a prior case. This factor-based approach is the current analysis the Supreme Court uses to evaluate stare decisis.

Although the stare decisis analysis appears unified, the Court’s current application is fractured by competing individual approaches. This has created a “jurisprudence of doubt” that requires the Court to fundamentally reassess the role and function of the stare decisis analysis in future constitutional cases.

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