St. Mary's Law Journal


Several Texas Supreme Court Justices have recently criticized Texas’s appellate justice system for its failure to provide consistency and the unfairness it produces, namely how litigants are treated differently despite the identical factual circumstances. Despite the warnings of various Texas Justices, neither the Texas Supreme Court nor the Texas Legislature have done much to rectify the lack of uniform justice received by Texas litigants. Most of the proposals to reform the Texas appellate justice systems’ unfairness have focused exclusively on structural changes. While structural changes could help reduce inconsistent “justice”, these reforms fail to address the main substantive problem—Texas’s weak adherence to stare decisis. Although stare decisis is a relatively straightforward concept when applied in a basic three-tiered court system, the application of stare decisis becomes considerably complicated when a court system employs multiple intermediate appellate courts. Stare decisis is one of the most basic and fundamental principles of the American legal system. At its simplest, stare decisis requires courts to adhere to prior case precedents in deciding new cases. This adherence to court precedent is often justified on the grounds of judicial economy, predictability, fairness/equality, and judicial legitimacy. In order to better reform Texas’s court system, either the Texas Supreme Court or the Texas Legislature must address the underlying substantive problem and create a stronger stare decisis model. Two simple rules could easily ensure greater uniformity. First, a “horizontal stare decisis” rule, could bind each intermediate appellate district to all prior decisions, regardless of district. Second, a “vertical stare decisis” could bind each trial court to decisions from any intermediate appellate court district. By adopting these stronger stare decisis rules, the problem of unequal justice application would disappear by promoting uniformity, predictability, fairness/equity, and judicial legitimacy.


St. Mary's University School of Law