Stare Decisis and the Status of California's Super Pension Contract
67 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2022
Date Written: November 12, 2022
A fundamental principle of law is that courts stand by their decisions. Under the Latin term, stare decisis, judicial action strives for stability and coherence by setting precedents for the future in deciding current cases. This Article presents an original inquiry into the overruling expression and criteria for stare decisis in the public pension reform context of California’s constitutional contract law. While there is a lively debate among commentators and judges about the role of stare decisis theory and doctrine in federal law, our study extends that conversation to state law for the first time. We develop a new decision-making framework by synthesizing state and federal decisions to provide a fresh perspective on the perennial problem of whether cases should be settled or settled right. Utilizing the proposed decisional model, we analyze if the Supreme Court of California should retain or repudiate its super pension contract. This contract—commonly called the California Rule—is the primary obstacle to pension reform under the Contract Clause. The rule has contributed to the state’s pension crisis by granting protection of future accruals on the first day of government employment. Because the California rule has been widely adopted in other jurisdictions that are similarly struggling to manage debilitating pension debt, the foregoing evaluation of precedent’s durability has important and far-reaching implications.
Keywords: Government Pensions, Pension Reform, Constitutional Law, Contract Clause, Government Contract Law, Employment Law, Retirement Security, Public Pensions, Public Sector Employee Pensions, Defined Benefit Plans, State and Local Government Law, Pension Law
JEL Classification: J33, J38, J45, J48, K00, K2, K30, Z18, H55
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation