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The Depreciation of Precedent on the U.S. Supreme Court

42 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2009  

Ryan C. Black

Michigan State University - Department of Political Science

James F. Spriggs II II

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science; Washington University in St. Louis - Center for Empirical Research in the Law

Date Written: June 17, 2009

Abstract

An enduring piece of legal wisdom contends both that the value of court opinions depreciates as they age and that a variety of factors lead some cases to depreciate faster than others. We systematically test these expectations by examining the rate at which U.S. Supreme Court precedents depreciate between the 1946 and 2004 Terms. Our statistical results indicate, first, that a precedent’s age has the most pronounced influence of any variable on depreciation, and, second, that almost none of the other factors appreciably affect depreciation. There is only one exception to this latter conclusion, and the “history” of a case, as observed through the patterns in previous case citations, influences depreciation. But, even the strength of that relationship substantially depends on the age of a case. Third, we show studies overestimate the effect of nearly every variable previously used to explain case citations because those variables become less influential as cases age

Keywords: U.S. Supreme Court, precedent, stare decisis, network analysis, legal citations

Suggested Citation

Black, Ryan C. and Spriggs II, James F., The Depreciation of Precedent on the U.S. Supreme Court (June 17, 2009). CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1421413 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1421413

Ryan C. Black

Michigan State University - Department of Political Science ( email )

East Lansing, MI 48824
United States

HOME PAGE: http://ryancblack.org

James F. Spriggs II (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science ( email )

One Brookings Drive
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

Washington University in St. Louis - Center for Empirical Research in the Law ( email )

One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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