Stare Decisis in the California Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss review in Lockheed Litigation Cases, S132167 is stirring some comment about what qualifies for “stare decisis.”

The Supreme Court dismissed review after four justices recused themselves from hearing the matter.  (The California Blog of Appeal has more detail on the dismissal)  Attorneys for the plaintiffs expressed surprise that the court did not simply go forward with the case using pro tem justices.

Mike McKee of the Recorder quotes Chief Justice George dismissing that idea in this case:  “If you had three or four pro tem justices, that wouldn’t carry any precedential value.”

The plaintiffs attorneys, according to McKee’s article, had a different view of stare decisis, arguing “The court is an institution.  These cases are not decided by individuals.  They are decided by a body of judges sitting and acting collegially.”

The Chief Justice’s comment may reveal some of his thinking about stare decisis in California — and it may just be that he agrees with plaintiff’s attorney on point.  The precedential force of a decision derives, in part, from collegiality.  Collegiality here, however, is the long-term relationships between the members of the court.  The fact that the justices need to continue to work with each other for the long term provides a powerful reason to adhere to past decisions in the absence of new and overriding considerations.

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