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The Variable Weight of Precedent

There has been a bit of discussion, of late, about what should determine the relative weight of a given piece of precedent (e.g., the number of other cases relying on it, the area of law to which it pertains, the soundness of the decision as an initial matter, etc.). (Jack Balkin here, Dan Solove here, Jeff Rosen in the New York Times here)

In one of this Term’s first full opinions, a unanimous Supreme Court (per Justice Stevens) had this to say today about precedent in the statutory area:

Considerations of stare decisis are particularly forceful in the area of statutory construction, especially when a unanimous interpretation of a statute has been accepted as settled law for several decades.

The case, IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, involves the interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Lyle Denniston has a concise summary of the case at SCOTUSBlog, here.