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Words of Law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s phrase is stare decisis.

stare decisis (Stahr-ee di-sI-sis or stair-ee), n. [Latin “to stand by things decided”] (18c) The doctrine of precedent, under which a court must follow earlier judicial decisions when the same points arise again in litigation.

Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2014.

stare decisis (ster-ē-di-‘sī-sәs, stär-), n [Latin, to stand by decided matters] (1782) A doctrine or policy of following rules or principles laid down in previous judicial decisions, unless they contravene the ordinary principles of justice.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, Philip Babcock Gove, Editor in Chief, Merriam Webster, 1981.

“The Court has often recognized the ‘fundamental importance’ of stare decisis, the basic legal principle that commands judicial respect for a court’s earlier decisions and the rules of law they embody. The Court has pointed out that stare decisis ‘promotes the evenhanded predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.’ Stare decisis thereby avoids the instability and unfairness that accompany disruption of settled legal expectations. For this reason, the rule of law demands that adhering to our prior case law be the norm. Departure from precedent is exceptional, and requires ‘special justification. This is especially true where, as here, the principle has become settled through iteration and reiteration over a long period of time.’ ”

-Justice Breyer for the Supreme Court of the United States, Randall v. Sorrell, 548 U.S. 230 (2006).

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