Lincoln on the Role of the Judiciary

“Judicial decisions have two uses – first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and, secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use they are called “precedents” and “authorities.” . . . Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents according to circumstances…  If this important decision had been made by the unanimous concurrence of the judges, and without any apparent partisan bias, and in accordance with legal public expectation, and with the steady practice of the departments throughout our history, and had been in no part based on assumed historical facts which are not really true; or, if wanting in some of those, it had been before the court more than once, and had there been affirmed and reaffirmed through a course of years, it then might be, perhaps would be, factious, nay, even revolutionary, not to acquiesce in it as a precedent. But when, as is true, we find it wanting in all these claims to the public confidence, it is not resistance, it is not factious, it is not even disrespectful, to treat it as not having yet quite established a settled doctrine for the country.”

Speech at Springfield, June 26, 1857

 


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