The Power and Importance of Precedent in the Decisions of the Supreme Court
by Lena Morreale Scott, Street Law, Inc.
What is precedent and why do courts think it is so important? This lesson incorporates “The Rehnquist Revolution,” Episode 4 of the PBS Series The Supreme Court. Students will examine the role of precedent in Supreme Court decisions – why precedents are usually followed and what justices take into consideration when they overturn precedents. Students will analyze the case of Dickerson v. United States (2000), which most Court watchers predicted Chief Justice William Rehnquist would use to overturn the precedents established in Miranda v. Arizona (1966). Finally, students will trace the Miranda decision to Yarborough v. Alvarado (2004), a case that answered the question of whether juveniles are entitled to special procedures for Miranda warnings.
* Define the terms “precedent” and “stare decisis” and explain why they are important in the work of the Supreme Court of the United States;
* Explain reasons it is important to uphold precedents and why it may sometimes be necessary to overturn precedents;
* Analyze two recent Supreme Court cases in light of precedent and stare decisis: Miranda v. Arizona (1966) and Dickerson v. United States (2000);
* Summarize the Supreme Court decision in Yarborough, Warden v. Alvarado (2004), a case that examined whether juveniles are entitled to special procedures for Miranda warnings.