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Overruling and the instability of law

  • Gennaioli, Nicola
  • Shleifer, Andrei

We 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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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Comparative Economics.

Volume (Year): 35 (2007)
Issue (Month): 2 (June)
Pages: 309-328

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jcecon:v:35:y:2007:i:2:p:309-328
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622864

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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. Spiller, Pablo T & Tiller, Emerson H, 1997. "Decision Costs and the Strategic Design of Administrative Process and Judicial Review," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(2), pages 347-70, June.
  3. Gennaioli, Nicola & Shleifer, Andrei, 2007. "The Evolution of Common Law," Scholarly Articles 3451305, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  4. Robert Cooter & Lewis Kornhauser & David Lane, 1979. "Liability Rules, Limited Information, and the Role of Precedent," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 366-373, Spring.
  5. Schwartz, Edward P, 1992. "Policy, Precedent, and Power: A Positive Theory of Supreme Court Decision-Making," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(2), pages 219-52, April.
  6. Kornhauser, Lewis A, 1992. "Modeling Collegial Courts. II. Legal Doctrine," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(3), pages 441-70, October.
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