, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 341-365

Holdings about holdings: modeling contradictions in judicial precedent

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Abstract

This paper attempts to formalize the differences between two methods of analysis used by judicial opinions in common law jurisdictions to contradict holdings posited by earlier opinions: “disagreeing” with the holdings of the earlier opinions and “attributing” holdings to the prior opinions. The paper will demonstrate that it is necessary to model both methods of analysis differently to generate an accurate picture of the state of legal authority in hypothetical examples, as well as in an example based on Barry Friedman’s analysis of the “stealth overruling” of Miranda v. Arizona through subsequent judicial interpretations. Because the question of whether “disagreement” and “attribution” need to be modeled separately relates to contradictions rather than to subtler interactions between holdings such as “distinguishing,” it can be answered using the simple technique of modeling holdings as propositional variables and evaluating the holdings using truth tables.