Saturday, June 27, 2015

Stare decisis and the Spider-Man case (Kimble v. Marvel)

As a flashback, concerning the Supreme Court's refusal to overturn Brulotte v. Thys, contemplate the following from Monell, 436 U.S. 658, 695 (1978) :

Although we have stated that stare decisis has more force in statutory analysis than in constitutional adjudication because, in the former situation, Congress can correct our mistakes through legislation, see, e. g., Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 671, and n. 14 (1974), we have never applied stare decisis mechanically to prohibit overruling our earlier decisions determining the meaning of statutes. See, e. g., Continental T. V., Inc. v. GTE Sylvania Inc., 433 U.S. 36, 47-49 (1977); Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co., 285 U.S. 393, 406 n. 1 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting) (collecting cases). Nor is this a case where we should "place on the shoulders of Congress the burden of the Court's own error." Girouard v. United States, 328 U.S. 61, 70 (1946).

Recall the New York Times discussion:

The lesson, Justice Kagan wrote, is that the Supreme Court should use its power cautiously when it is asked to overrule a precedent. “What we can decide, we can undecide,” she wrote. “But stare decisis” — Latin for “to stand by things decided” — “teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly.”


She said the Brulotte decision might be based on an outdated understanding of economics that hinders competition and innovations. But, she added, “respecting stare decisis means sticking to some wrong decisions.”

That is especially true, she said, when the decision in question did not involve the Constitution, about which the court has the last word, but rather the interpretation of a statute, which may be altered by Congress. “As against this superpowered form of stare decisis,” she wrote, “we would need a superspecial justification to warrant reversing Brulotte.”



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