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Stare decisis: Rhetoric and substance

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Stare decisis allows common law to develop gradually and incrementally. We show how judge-made law can steadily evolve and tend to increase efficiency even in the absence of new information. Judges' opinions must argue that their decisions are consistent with precedent: this is the more costly, the greater the innovation they are introducing. As a result, each judge effects a cautious marginal change in the law. Alternative models in which precedents are either strictly obeyed or totally discarded would instead predict abrupt large swings in legal rules. Thus we find that the evolution of case law is grounded not in binary logic fixing judges' constraints, but in costly rhetoric shaping their incentives. We apply this finding to an assessment of the role of analogical reasoning in shaping the joint development of different areas of law.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 1361.

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Date of creation: Mar 2009
Date of revision: Apr 2010
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1361

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  1. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Cristian Pop-Eleches & Andrei Shleifer, 2004. "Judicial Checks and Balances," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(2), pages 445-470, April.
  2. Nicola Gennaioli & Andrei Shleifer, 2007. "The Evolution of Common Law," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 43-68.
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Cited by:
  1. Nicola Gennaioli & Enrico Perotti, 2012. "Standardized Enforcement: Access to Justice vs. Contractual Innovation," Working Papers 652, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  2. Guerriero, C., 2009. "Democracy, Judicial Attitudes and Heterogeneity: The Civil Versus Common Law Tradition," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0917, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.

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