It is a general rule that when a point of law has been settled by decision, it forms a precedent which is not later, and certainly not lightly, to be departed from. Stare decisis is not always to be relied upon, and courts sometimes, albeit infrequently, find it necessary to overrule precedent when cases have been hastily decided, or contrary to principle.
In the United States, courts seek to follow precedent as frequently as possible, in order to maintain stability and continuity in the law. Devotion to stare decisis is considered a mark of judicial restraint, limiting a judge's ability to determine the outcome of a case in a way that he or she might choose if it were a matter of first impression.
Given the principle's generally accepted degree of importance in the legal community, any departure from stare decisis is critically assessed for validity, and usually the court's ability to address several reasons for overturning precedent (including: age of the precedent, the extent of reliance on it and what implications would exist for overturning a prior rule, and its consistency with other related rules of law) goes a long way to imparting an air of just propriety to such departure from stare decisis.
- Definition from Cornell University
- Constitution Society: How stare decisis Subverts the Law
- Lectlaw definition of stare decisis