Stare Decisis

“There is no exception for Supreme Court cases of ancient vintage.”

That’s from Mehr v. Superior Court (1983) 139 Cal.App.3d 1044, 1049 fn. 3, regarding the doctrine of stare decisis.  It’s a handy quote to keep in your arsenal for those occasions when you have to cite very old cases.  I can remember legal research and writing instructors pounding into our heads that we should always use newer cases, where available.  Thus, while I’ve never seen anyone try to discount a case based on its age alone, there’s that uneasy feeling any time I find it necessary to cite an old case that the adverse party will try to do just that.

A smart lawyer, of course, would not rely on age alone.  The lawyer would point to some changed circumstance since the time the case was decided, such as changes in statutes or case law that the older decision relied on.  Nonetheless, I feel a little better having Mehr at my disposal.

Here’s the full paragraph from the case:

Although the California Supreme Court is free to overrule its own prior decisions, the doctrine of stare decisis compels lower court tribunals to follow the Supreme Court whatever reason the intermediate tribunals might have for not wishing to do so. [Citations.]  There is no exception for Supreme Court cases of ancient vintage.

Speaking of cases of ancient vintage, they seem to crop up a lot in the area of stays and supersedeas pending appeal.  This strikes me as an odd place for old cases to dominate, in light of the intervening overhaul of the relevant statutes.

If anyone has an explanation, theory, or even a SWAG** as to why old cases dominate in this area — or who, perhaps, wishes to point out that my factual premise is wrong — please leave a comment on this post. (**SWAG = Scientific Wild-Ass Guess – a term I picked up while studying electrical engineering at the Naval Academy.)