Stipulating the Law

68 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2010

See all articles by Gary Lawson

Gary Lawson

Boston University School of Law

Date Written: September 14, 2010


In Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the Supreme Court decided important questions of structural constitutionalism on the assumption, shared by all of the parties, that members of the Securities and Exchange Commission are not removable at will by the President. Four Justices strongly challenged the majority’s willingness to accept what amounts to a stipulation by the parties on a controlling issue of law. As a general matter, the American legal system does not allow parties to stipulate to legal conclusions, though it welcomes and encourages stipulations to matters of fact. I argue that one ought to take seriously the idea that stipulations of law should be as integral a part of the adjudicative process as stipulations of fact – or, at the very minimum, that the acceptance of stipulations of law rests on defensible assumptions about the nature of adjudication as a mechanism for resolving disputes rather than as a mechanism for declaring the law or expressing public values. Objections to the wide use of legal stipulations often focus on the potential third-party effects of adjudication, primarily (though not exclusively) through precedent. I suggest that those objections generally assume a contestable theory of precedent that emanates from a law-declaring rather than a dispute-resolving theory of adjudication. It is quite possible to have a theory of precedent that accompanies a dispute-resolution model of adjudication that does not raise (or raise unacceptably) concerns about externalities in accepting legal stipulations. Thus, the legal system should consider extending the degree to which it will enable parties to control the legal issues decided by courts.

Keywords: stipulations, adjudication, dispute resolution, law declaration, precedent

JEL Classification: K22, K39, K41, K49

Suggested Citation

Lawson, Gary, Stipulating the Law (September 14, 2010). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 109, Forthcoming, Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 10-27, Available at SSRN:

Gary Lawson (Contact Author)

Boston University School of Law ( email )

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617-353-3812 (Phone)

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