81 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2020 Last revised: 21 Sep 2020
Date Written: May 23, 2019
This Article defends the retroactive nature of judicial lawmaking. Recent Supreme Court judgments have reignited debate on the retroactivity of novel precedent. When a court announces a new rule, does it apply only to future cases or also to disputes arising in the past? This Article shows that the doctrine of non-retroactive adjudication offers no adequate answer. In attempting to articulate a law of non-retroactivity, the Supreme Court has cycled through five flawed frameworks. It has variously characterized adjudicative non-retroactivity as (1) a problem of legal philosophy; (2) a discretionary exercise for balancing competing right and reliance interests; (3) a matter of choice of law; (4) a remedial issue; and (5) a contingency of last resort. This Article rejects these paradigms and instead offers an alternative framework grounded in conventional common law reasoning: that judicial precedent is inherently retroactive. The “equitable considerations” animating this body of law can best be fulfilled by judicial abandonment of non-retroactivity doctrine. Instead, courts should respond to “new” law by turning to a long-held value in our legal system: that equity aids the vigilant, not those who sleep on their rights.
Keywords: retrospective, retrospectivity, prospective overruling, jurisprudence, federal courts, legal theory, legal philosophy, remedies, restitution, rights of action, limitations, repose, equity, new equity, laches, discoverability, civil recourse, sunburst, harper, declaratory theory of adjudication
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