On "A Ticket Good for One Day Only"
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Almost every lawyer has heard the commonplace that one legal decision or another is “a ticket good for one day only.” This metaphor captures the idea that a decision lacks precedential value: it is here today, but gone before tomorrow’s train. The metaphor is powerful because the idea of a one-day-only precedent is almost always viewed with derision. A legal principle, if sound, is expected to survive the day it was decided and to last far into the future – perhaps even forever. The “one-day ticket” metaphor has itself passed that test, persisting in American legal culture for nearly 80 years. Over its long career, the expression has been put to a variety of uses by jurists of every ideological bent, and each usage has its own lessons and ironies.