Reliance by Whom? The False Promise of Societal Reliance on Stare Decisis Analysis

December
2017
Alexander Lazaro Mills

Under the doctrine of stare decisis, an important factor in determining whether to uphold or overrule a constitutional precedent is whether there are reliance interests in the rule it established. The Supreme Court’s analysis of reliance in this context has been brief and conclusory, leaving indeterminate the precise nature of the reliance interests at stake and causing uncertainty as to which forms of reliance the Court will deem cognizable in the future. Beginning with Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court has signaled a willingness to give weight to societal reliance—reliance interests of society as a whole. Drawing on previous scholarship, I argue that societal reliance should be given no weight. To measure reliance for stare decisis, the Court should first identify the entities that have taken steps in reliance upon the challenged precedent and then weigh the costs of repudiation to those entities. When purported reliance interests cannot be attributed to particular entities but instead belong to society as a whole, no true reliance is at stake, and it should therefore count for nothing. Adopting this approach will provide clarity, consistency, and predictability to the Court’s determinations whether to uphold or overrule constitutional precedents.

This article appears in the December 2017 Issue: Volume 92, Number 6