Effects of Judicial Decisions

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

When a court issues a decision, it has far-reaching effects that go beyond the immediate resolution of a specific case. Understanding the effects of judicial decisions is crucial in comprehending how the legal system operates and how laws are interpreted and applied.

Precedent: Stare Decisis and Binding Authority

One of the significant effects of judicial decisions is the establishment of precedent. Precedent refers to a legal principle or rule established by a court’s decision that serves as a guide for future cases. This principle is known as “stare decisis,” which means “to stand by decided matters.” Precedents provide consistency, predictability, and stability in the legal system.

Courts follow the doctrine of stare decisis to maintain consistency in the interpretation and application of the law. Under this doctrine, lower courts are bound by the decisions of higher courts within their jurisdiction. This creates a hierarchy of authority, where decisions of higher courts become binding on lower courts. This binding authority ensures that similar cases are treated consistently over time.

Overruling and Distinguishing Precedents

While precedents are generally followed, they are not inflexible. Courts have the power to overrule or modify previous decisions when there are compelling reasons to do so. Overruling occurs when a higher court explicitly declares that a previous decision is no longer valid or should not be followed.

Courts can also distinguish precedents. Distinguishing involves identifying differences between the current case and the earlier precedent, allowing the court to apply a different outcome based on those distinctions. This allows courts to adapt and apply the law to new and unique situations.

Effect on Future Cases and the Development of Law

The effects of judicial decisions extend beyond individual cases. Precedents influence future cases by providing a framework for judges to analyze similar legal issues. Courts rely on precedent to ensure consistency, fairness, and predictability in the legal system.

Moreover, judicial decisions contribute to the development of law. Through their interpretations and applications of statutes, constitutional provisions, and common law, courts shape and refine the law over time. Landmark decisions by appellate courts, such as the Supreme Court, can have significant impacts on legal doctrines and societal norms.


The effects of judicial decisions are profound and shape the legal landscape. Precedent establishes binding authority and promotes consistency in the interpretation and application of the law. Courts have the power to overrule or distinguish precedents when necessary. The effects of judicial decisions extend beyond individual cases, influencing future cases and contributing to the development of law. Understanding these effects is essential for comprehending how the legal system operates and the impact of court decisions.

Learn More

On Other Sites

Modification History

File Created:  08/07/2018

Last Modified:  07/10/2023

[Back | Content | Next]

This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License

Print for Personal Use

You are welcome to print a copy of pages from this Open Educational Resource (OER) book for your personal use. Please note that mass distribution, commercial use, or the creation of altered versions of the content for distribution are strictly prohibited. This permission is intended to support your individual learning needs while maintaining the integrity of the material.

Print This Text Section Print This Text Section

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.