Authority and Authorities
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Although there is a rich jurisprudential literature dealing with the concept of authority in law, the lessons from this jurisprudential tradition have never been connected with the practice by which authorities - cases, statutes, constitutions, regulations, articles, and books, primarily - are a central feature of common law legal argument, legal reasoning, and judicial decision-making. This disconnect between thinking about the nature of authority and reflecting on law's use of authorities has become even more troublesome of late, because controversies about the citation of foreign law, the increasing use of no-citation and no-precedential-effect rules in federal and state courts, and even such seemingly trivial matters as whether lawyers, judges and legal scholars should cite or rely on Wikipedia all raise central questions about the idea of authority and its special place in legal reasoning. In seeking to close this gap between the jurisprudential lessons and their contemporary application, this Essay casts doubt on the traditional dichotomy between binding and persuasive authority, seeks to understand the distinction among prohibited, permissive, and mandatory legal sources, and attempts to explain the process by which so-called authorities gain (and sometimes lose) their authoritative status.