Common law, also known as case law. It can be a little overwhelming, but we will break it down simply.
Those good old Brits gave us quite a few things, one of which is the roots of our legal system. Quite a good system, I must say.
Webster defines it as
“a body of law that is based on custom and general principles and embodied in case law and that serves as precedent or is applied to situations not covered by statute.”
Ok… That’s a bit convoluted, however, the idea is simple.
There are countless situations that our current laws don’t specifically explain how to make a judgment on. And it would be impossible to have it cover everything since everything is constantly changing. There are gray areas, unforeseen dilemmas and the “hmmmmmm” moments, where we don’t really have a sure idea on how best to proceed. These moments have to end with a judge’s ruling eventually, and those rulings are we what refer to as case or common law.
When that judge gives the ruling, it then becomes a law. Thus Common Law.
So What Does that Have to Do with Me?
A whole lot actually.
When a decision is made, that ruling sets a precedent for all future rulings to be based on. That has serious and long lasting implications concerning the subject matter at hand. This starts at the lowest level courts in our justice system and can, on appeals, potentially reach all the way to the Supreme Court. This is why you hear so many people stress the importance of Supreme Court positions. Their rulings on such matters literally create the laws we live our lives under.
And what the Supreme Court says goes. There is absolutely no way around that.
These rulings have changed the landscape of our country from campaign finance laws, desegregation, slavery, abortion, illegal searches and countless others that have shaped this country’s past and will continue to shape its future.
When you hear politicians stressing the Supreme Court’s importance, this is why.
Keep in mind… The judges themselves don’t write up new laws, they are decisions they are forced to make. We have accepted the use of case law and it has brought consistency to legal rulings throughout the entire country, but the consequences of that are binding legal decisions which have the ability to alter the course of our country.
Let’s Think About the Future
With the passing of Justice Scalia last year and the ensuing blockade of president Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, there’s a spot that will be filled by president-elect Trump.
There’s speculation that additional seats will open up during his four years in office which will need to be filled as well. This marks a period of a possible ideological transition on the court’s positions. Many have speculated this will lead to older decisions being revisited and reversed. The more relevant concerns, however, are which issues will be shaping our technologically changing world.
Whatever your thoughts are on issues such as automation, climate change, artificial intelligence, criminal justice reform, drug decriminalization, corporate oversight or any of the “hot-button” issues our futures will hold, there will be rulings in the coming years that will set a path for our country, which will impact children and grandchildren who have yet to be born into this world.
Whoever is in the position to make those rulings has a lot to consider, and the implications of their decisions often aren’t even grasped by them, because the future is an unpredictable place, which we so often forget.
Whatever the future may hold, the past holds its share of lessons we can learn from. If you are passionate about an issue, take the time to look up the often erratic path it has taken to the present day consensus. If you have an issue you want us to cover concerning a ruling, let us know in the comments below, and we can address your concerns.
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