Case Law

Case law is the law as stated in specific cases decided by courts. Case law is in written form, and generally contains a brief synopsis of the facts of the case, an analysis of the legal principles that apply, and a statement of the court's decision (what is generally known as the holding of the case). The holding is the crux of the decision rendered by that court. Insofar as that court has jurisdiction or authority to interpret the law, the holding then becomes law. Any language in the case decision other than the holding is surplus language, or what may be referred to as obiter dictum (or simply dicta). The dicta within a court decision is not binding law, but rather is simply utilized by that court to explain its rationale. To fully understand the scope of case law and what effect it has upon our daily lives, it is necessary to understand the structure of the court system. In the United States there are two entirely separate and distinct court systems-the federal court system and the state court system. Each state has its own court system that is entirely separate and entirely distinct from the federal system, and from the court systems of the other forty-nine states in the Union.

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