What is common law? In legal theory, common law refers to the body of law developed by courts and similar quasi-legal tribunals following a series of decisions made by courts. The defining characteristic of common law is that it is based on what has been stated in judicial opinions. However, common law authority may be derived from a variety of sources.
The United States has developed an elaborate system of common law that is grounded in statutes and case law adopted by state and federal courts. This system of lawmaking was begun after the adoption of the Constitution, and continues today under the statutory provisions of the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The most prominent feature of this body of law is its reliance on judicial precedent as a source of precedent.
Although the scope of this common law may be somewhat limited in some areas, such as juvenile cases, it enjoys wide latitude in others. Because the jurisdiction of this body is frequently shared among various jurisdictions, there are several means through which this law may be enforced. There are various sources of court precedent-for instance, common law may be enforced by the states through their respective courts, the federal court may enforce it through federal district courts, or the decisions of federal tribunals-justices of the U.S. Supreme Court may decide cases arising out of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. There are other means through which this law may be enforced, including common law principles, decisions of state and local governments, decisions of state and local courts, and decisions of various international organizations. The existence and application of this law is not always clearly understood, especially outside the United States.
Because of the various sources of court decisions and the wide range of forums through which this law may be enforced, it is often complicated and difficult to understand. Often, it is not uncommon for differing points of view to develop when a dispute arises over an interpretation of the common law. This can create difficulties for litigants that seek to obtain redress from one who refuses to entertain their claims due to conflicting court precedent.
It is important to remember that although stare decisis has been a fundamental principle of the legal system since the Magna Carta, the principle itself does not enjoy a special status in the eyes of modern …