Case Law - Common Law

Case Law, often used interchangeably with the term Common Law, refers to the precedents and authority set by previous court rulings, judicial decisions and administrative legal findings or rulings. This is one of the main categories of law, with constitutional law, statutory law and regulatory law.

Although statutory laws, created by legislative bodies in concurrence with constitutional law, strive to provide overall direction, guidance and rules for society at large, it is impossible to deal with all situations, legal issues and questions by this manner alone. Our judicial bodies are tasked with interpreting law and in doing so, often set precedent where statutory, regulatory and even constitutional law is vague, unclear or silent. All of these precedents make up case law.

Stare decisis is the doctrine of precedent. It is the abbreviation of the full Latin phrase stare decisis et non quieta mvere”, of which the literal translation is “to stand by decided matters and not to disturb settled matters”. This means that a court will rule according to a previously established decision or finding. Although this does not always hold true, it is very difficult to obtain a ruling against precedent, and generally involves appellate courts. Additionally, legislatively created statutes may be enacted which overrule precedent. The decision cited for precedent must be from a court higher than the one hearing the current case. And in fact, case law is most often established by appellate courts.

Case law is generally very jurisdiction-specific. For example, a case in California would typically not be overseen and decided using precedent set in Maine. Instead, previous California rulings on the issue would be reviewed to determine interpretation of the law or issue, allowing a party to cite “binding precedent”. If no such previous rulings exist, one may offer precedent from a different jurisdiction, but rather than binding, this would merely be “persuasive authority”. There are also other factors in play which affect the binding authority of a specific case in common law, such as how old the decision is and how closely the material facts match in both cases.


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Case Law - US

  • Court Opinion

    Court opinions are the pronouncements of judges on the legal controversies that come before them. In a common-law system, court opinions constitute the law by which all controversies are settled. Attorneys analyze prior opinions on similar legal issues, attempting to draw parallels between their case and favorable court opinions and to distinguish unfavorable opinions. Judges study relevant opinions in rendering their decisions.

  • Judicial Precedent

    A judgment of a court of law cited as an authority for deciding a similar set of facts; a case which serves as authority for the legal principle embodied in its decision. The common law has developed by broadening down from precedent to precedent. A judicial precedent is a decision of the court used as a source for future decision making. This is known as stare decisis (to stand upon decisions) and by which precedents are authoritative and binding and must be followed. In giving judgment in a case, the judge will set out the facts of the case, state the law applicable to the facts and then provide his or her decision. It is only the ratio decidendi (the legal reasoning or ground for the judicial decision) which is binding on later courts under the system of judicial precedent.

  • Legal Research - Finding Federal Case Law

    The federal legal system has its own system of courts that is completely separate from the state court systems. * Not surprisingly, the highest court in the federal system is called the United States Supreme Court. * The intermediate appellate courts are called the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals, T * The trial courts are called the United States District Courts. Several states are contained within the jurisdiction of each U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Each state has at least one U.S. District Court, and larger states may have two or more.

  • Public Library of Law - Case Law

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  • Ratio Decidendi - Wikipedia

    Ratio decidendi (Latin plural rationes decidendi) is a Latin phrase meaning "the reason" or "the rationale for the decision". The ratio decidendi is "the point in a case that determines the judgment" or "the principle that the case establishes".

Organizations Related to Case Law

  • Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF)

    The federal judiciary's Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) project revolutionized the way in which the federal courts manage their cases and documents. This easy-to-use system allows attorneys to file documents directly with the court over the Internet and allows courts to file, store, and manage their case files in an easy-to-access, transparent way.

  • Fastcase

    Fastcase’s libraries include primary law from all 50 states, as well as deep federal coverage going back to 1 U.S. 1, 1 F.2d 1, 1 F.Supp. 1, and 1 B.R. 1. The Fastcase collection includes cases, statutes, regulations, court rules, and constitutions. Fastcase also provides access to a newspaper archive, legal forms, and a one-stop PACER search of federal filings through our content partners.

  • United States Courts

    The three branches of the federal government — legislative, executive, and judicial — operate within a constitutional system known as "checks and balances." This means that although each branch is formally separate from the other two, the Constitution often requires cooperation among the branches. Federal laws, for example, are passed by Congress and signed by the President. The judicial branch, in turn, has the authority to decide the constitutionality of federal laws and resolve other disputes over them, but judges depend upon the executive branch to enforce court decisions.

  • United States Department of Justice

    Our mission - To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.

  • United States Supreme Court Cases and Opinions

    The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight (28 U. S. C. §1). Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate. Article III, §1, of the Constitution further provides that "[t]he Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."

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