Stare decisis — “to stand by things decided” — is a legal rule. The rule is that previous cases decided are binding or persuasive on courts deciding similar subsequent cases.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the rule is of “fundamental importance,” promoting “stability, predictability, and respect for judicial authority.” Hilton v. South Carolina Public Railways Comm’n, 502 U.S. 197, 202 (1991). It has cautioned that courts should “not depart from the doctrine of stare decisis without some compelling justification.” Id. The Missouri Supreme Court has issued similar opinions. “[U]nder the doctrine of stare decisis, a decision of this Court should not be lightly overruled, particularly where…the opinion has remained unchanged for many years.” First Bank v. Fischer & Frichtel, Inc., 364 S.W.3d 216, 224 (Mo. 2012).
Given the importance of precedent, many legal disputes revolve around how previous cases were decided. Particularly when it comes to appeals, lawyers spend a tremendous amount of time framing the current case within the scope of favorable precedent (or distinguishing unfavorable precedent). In rare circumstances, a later court can overrule previous court decisions that were wrongfully decided.