Saturday, February 1, 2014
Suja Thomas' recent article, How Atypical, Hard Cases Make Bad Law (See, e.g., the Lack of Judicial Restraint in Wal-Mart, Twombly, and Ricci), was posted on SSRN some months ago, but has just been published at 48 Wake Forest L. Rev. 989.
Despite the oft-mentioned goal of judicial restraint, courts have few effective tools to realize it. Stare decisis provides some guidance on whether legal change should be made where there is relevant precedent, but courts do not always conduct a stare decisis analysis. And for questions for which precedent and thus stare decisis is not relevant, beyond malleable tools, including those of statutory and constitutional interpretation, the courts have no guidance on whether to make legal change. Accordingly, many scholars have argued that judicial restraint is rhetoric not reality. Possibly unsurprisingly then, several recent high profile Supreme Court cases including Twombly, Wal-Mart, and Ricci, have exhibited what may be characterized as a lack of judicial restraint. While to date each case has been criticized for the specific legal change made in the case, an unrecognized lack of restraint ultimately ties all of the cases together. In the cases, the Court made legal change motivated by extraordinary circumstances, and no doctrine of judicial restraint prevented the change. This Article argues for a new doctrine of judicial restraint — the “atypical doctrine” — that the Court should not make legal change in cases, like Twombly, Wal-Mart, and Ricci, where legal change is motivated by oddball or atypical facts, and the change would affect typical cases. The Article contributes to the important question of when the Court should make legal change by beginning a discussion on how judicial restraint can be strengthened.