Overruling and the Instability of Law
AbstractWe investigate the evolution of common law under overruling, a system of precedent change in which appellate courts replace existing legal rules with new ones. We use a legal realist model, in which judges change the law to reflect their own preferences or attitudes, but changing the law is costly to them. The model's predictions are consistent with the empirical evidence on the overruling behavior of the U.S. Supreme Court and appellate courts. We find that overruling leads to unstable legal rules that rarely converge to efficiency. The selection of disputes for litigation does not change this conclusion. Our findings provide a rationale for the value of precedent, as well as for the general preference of appellate courts for distinguishing rather than overruling as a law-making strategy.
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Date of creation: Feb 2007
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Other versions of this item:
- K13 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Tort Law and Product Liability
- K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
- NEP-ALL-2007-02-24 (All new papers)
- NEP-LAW-2007-02-24 (Law & Economics)
- NEP-POL-2007-02-24 (Positive Political Economics)
- NEP-UPT-2007-02-24 (Utility Models & Prospect Theory)
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