Group Formation and Precedent

  • Neal Devins
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 33)


This chapter combines historical evidence and social-psychology insights to contend that “coherent” Supreme Courts—those with five or more Justices who agree on crucial issues—are far more likely to overrule precedents, and to aggressively attempt to create broad precedents, than are “incoherent” Courts. The author explains the social-psychology dynamics that contribute to the formation (or absence) of coherent Court majorities. He then surveys three historical periods to illustrate the divergent behavior of coherent versus incoherent Courts: the post-1936 New Deal Court, which was highly coherent on most issues and thus ambitious in both overturning and establishing precedent; the Warren Court, which was incoherent and cautious before 1962 but became coherent and aggressive thereafter; and the Rehnquist Court, which was incoherent on most issues (dominated by two centrist swing Justices) and thus adopted a minimalist approach toward precedent. The author concludes with a preliminary analysis of the Roberts Court, suggesting that it is generally incoherent and therefore reluctant to formally overrule precedent in most areas.


Impression Management Supreme Court Majority Coalition Interstate Commerce Federal Election Commission 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawCollege of William & MaryWilliamsburgUSA

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