State supreme court decisions to overrule precedent, 1965-1996


This article presents results from a systematic study of overruling decisions by state supreme courts in four states - Alabama, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania - over a thirty-two-year period. We find some general trends in the overruling behavior of these courts, including 1) overruling decisions tended to occur generally at the same rate across all four courts; 2) increases in caseload tended to increase the number of overruling decisions; 3) almost half of the overruled decisions were reversed within ten years in three of the four courts; 4) private civil cases are overruled more frequently; and 5) common law or precedent is the most frequent basis for overruling decisions, with constitutions (state or federal) among the most infrequent. When compared to recent research on the overruling behavior of the U.S. Supreme Court (Brenner and Spaeth, 1995), only the New Jersey court demonstrated behavior similar to that of the Supreme Court, suggesting the importance of judicial selection method and docket control to the stability of precedent in courts of last resort.

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Justice System Journal