Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2003

Center/Program

Ira M. Millstein Center for Global Markets and Corporate Ownership

Abstract

The nation's courts of appeals have struggled to devise a coherent approach to harmonizing existing circuit case law with intervening decisions of the Supreme Court.' When the Court directly overrules a decision of a court of appeals, it is agreed that the overruled decision loses the force of law. But when a Supreme Court opinion disfavors a circuit's jurisprudential theory, the courts of appeals must determine to what extent cases relying on the rejected theory remain good law. Recently, in Miller v. Gammie (Gammie II),2 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, adopted an approach that directs three-judge panels to reconsider both panel and en banc decisions that would otherwise be binding precedent when those decisions are "clearly irreconcilable with the reasoning or theory of intervening higher authority. '3 This test is unbounded and will likely prove impossible to administer, a result foretold by the Gammie II court's error in concluding that Ninth Circuit absolute immunity jurisprudence was "effectively overruled" by Supreme Court cases entirely compatible with existing circuit decisions. To preserve the predictability and coherence of their jurisprudence, courts of appeals should instead adopt a default rule that presumes the validity of case law not explicitly overruled by the Supreme Court.

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