World’s Pithiest Description of Stare Decisis

David Cheifetz, Lawhaha’s friend from the north, sent in this Canadian court opinion about the judicial pecking order. David wrote:

Here is the pithiest and funniest summary of “stare decisis” ever written. Judge Cardozo’s explanation in “The Nature of the Judicial Process” may be the best justification and explanation, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what you’re about to read for wit and succinctness. The below summary comes from a decision by a Master of the Queens Bench of Alberta, Canada. A Master is a judge in all but name whose role is deciding preliminary motions in civil matters. The Master involved, Master Funduk, is noted for his witty judgments. The Queens Bench is the trial division of Alberta’s highest court. In the Canadian system, the highest court of any province is always the province’s Court of Appeal, even if the highest provincial trial court is called the Superior or the Supreme Court of the province. Here’s how Master Funduk summed up his role (some paragraph breaks inserted):

Any legal system which has a judicial appeals process inherently creates a pecking order for the judiciary regarding where judicial decisions stand on the legal ladder.

I am bound by decisions of Queen’s Bench judges, by decisions of the Alberta Court of Appeal and by decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Very simply, Masters in Chambers of a superior trial court occupy the bottom rung of the superior courts’ judicial ladder. I do not overrule decisions of a judge of this Court.

The judicial pecking order does not permit little peckers to overrule big peckers. It is the other way around.

South Side Woodwork (1979) Ltd. v. R.C. Contracting Ltd., [1989] A.J. No. 111, 95 A.R. 161 at 166–67 (Alta. Q.B.). Thanks to David Cheifetz.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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