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Basic Principles of Case Law

Case Law

What is Case Law?

Case law refers to the body of tangible writings, which explain the verdicts in particular legal matters. Case law is created, in most instances, by judges through the delivery of their rulings. When a judge issues a decision, they will invariably elucidate upon the reasoning for the decisions; as a result, case law is derived from the details surrounding previously-rendered legal decisions. In addition to explaining the reasoning behind a legal decision, a judge will also cite precedents in other cases and coordinating statutes in their verdict.

A single decision may not generate any written opinions or interpretations; however, some verdicts, such as those delivered by the United States Supreme Court, will generate a plethora of opinions—decisions rendered in higher courts will act as precedents for the lower court system to follow. Collectively, these opinions are referred to in following cases by the presiding judge, when he or she offers their rulings in similar cases. This system, which is the general principle of case law, allows the law to remain relatively consistent.

A state trial court will not publish opinions and therefore generally will not add to the body of case law. A federal trial court, such as the United States District Court, will rarely publish opinions to be used in case law. As a result, the bulk of opinions—which are available in print and online form--used in case law are delivered through both the state and federal high courts. When offered, various government agencies will publish the opinions rendered in the United States Supreme Court and higher state courts; opinions of the United States Circuit Courts are typically published by private enterprises.

Basic Principles of Case law:

Case law, which is commonly referred to as common law, is derived from judge-issued rulings or verdicts. While legislation is typically passed by a government branch, the typical court system is able to exercise quasi-legislative power through the use of case law and the establishment of precedent. Through this function, case law is viewed as a foundation for a functioning judicial body—case law allows a court to transform decisions into a form of de facto law, which makes expedites the delivery of future verdicts.

Case law enables a judicial body to review a pre-existing legal matter. In some instances, a judge may intentionally object an established case law in an effort to initiate a re-evaluation of precedent. This process typically happens if a judge views a precedent in case law as antiquated or irrelevant in the contemporary climate. Through the issuance of a decision that will ultimately be appealed, the judge effectively pushes the case into the higher court system, where the established precedent may be overturned or re-constructed to better meet a modernized society.

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