Holding v. Dictum

Fundamental Cases on the Fourth Amendment by Adam J. McKee

Under the doctrine of stare decisis, the holding (also known by the Latin legal phrase ratio decidendi) in a case governs how courts within the same jurisdiction will treat factually similar cases in the future.  It is important to understand that the holding in a case refers only to the specific legal issues litigated in the adversarial process.  It can usually be summed up in a single sentence.  Everything else in the court’s opinion is considered dicta.  This comes from the Latin legal phrase obiter dicta, which loosely translates as “said by the way.”  The importance of the distinction between holding and dictum is that only the holding in a case has binding legal authority.  The legal rationale for this distinction is that things “said by the way” were not part of the adversarial process, and it would thus be unfair to use them as legal doctrine.  Put another way, only issues argued before the court should have the force of law.  Dicta, however, can be very strong persuasive authority.

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Modification History

File Created: 07/30/2018
Last Modified:  08/10/2018



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