Confining Cases to Their Facts

Article — Volume 105, Issue 4

105 Va. L. Rev. 865
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Stare decisis is the mainstay of doctrinal stability. But through the little-known expedient of “confining a case to its facts,” courts can evade the pull of stare decisis by overruling everything a decision stands for except its precise result. This doctrinal workaround has enabled courts to sidestep the formal requirements that attend overruling and quietly undermine precedent without stirring public interest. But confining’s conveniences are offset by its considerable dangers: it cuts courts loose from the constraints of stare decisis; it requires judges to engage in unprincipled, fact-bound adjudication; it dilutes the integrity of the law by enshrining contradictory legal principles; and it conflicts with modern retroactivity doctrine. Remarkably, the law of precedent has failed to account for this unusual practice. Confining and overruling have been deployed interchangeably, with little regard for their distinctive attributes. In this first in-depth treatment of confining, we offer guidelines for its responsible use—ones designed to place the practice on sounder theoretical footing and to end its indiscriminate use across the federal and state court systems.

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  Volume 105 / Issue 4  

“Standing” and Remedial Rights in Administrative Law

By Caleb Nelson
105 Va. L. Rev. 703

Combating Silence in the Profession

By Veronica Root Martinez
105 Va. L. Rev. 805

Confining Cases to Their Facts

By Daniel B. Rice & Jack Boeglin
105 Va. L. Rev. 865

Pardoning Contempt—Reconsidering the Criminal-Civil Divide

By Michael Weisbuch
105 Va. L. Rev. 931