A Reign of Error: Property Rights and Stare Decisis
70 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2021 Last revised: 15 Mar 2022
Date Written: 2021
Mistakes matter in law, even the smallest ones. What would happen if a small but substantively meaningful typographical error appeared in the earliest published version of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion and remained uncorrected for several decades in versions of the decision published by the two leading commercial companies and in several online databases? And what would happen if judges, legal commentators, and practitioners wrote opinions, articles, and other legal materials that incorporated and built on that mistake? In answering these questions, this Article traces the widespread, exponential replication of an error (first appearing in 1928) in numerous subsequent cases and other law and law-related sources; explores why the phenomenon of reproducing mistakes matters in a legal system whose lifeblood is words and that heavily relies on the principle of stare decisis; and argues that one legacy of this cautionary tale of an unforced error can be a functional understanding of how the Due Process, Equal Protection, and Takings Clauses can and should protect private property rights in different yet related ways.
Keywords: Supreme Court, constitutional law, constitutional history, legal history, property rights, zoning, land use, property
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