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Volume 109, Issue 2



William D. Araiza

Stanley A. August Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School. 

23 Feb 2024

This Article examines the phenomenon of “one-offs”: court opinions that are rarely cited by the court that issued them and do not explicitly generate further doctrinal development. At first glance, one might think that such opinions are problematic outputs from an apex court such as the U.S. Supreme Court, whose primary tasks are the exposition of legal principles and doctrine and the overall guidance of the law. Nevertheless, this Article, the first to consider this specific phenomenon, concludes that one-offs can play a legitimate role in the work of legal and doctrinal development.

This Article studies this phenomenon by closely examining three cases that are or have been one-offs. Those cases share an additional doctrinal peculiarity, in that they all reflect pro-plaintiff decisions rendered under the Supreme Court’s usually highly-deferential rational basis standard. The fact that these three cases share that peculiarity makes them interesting and fruitful subjects for study and comparison as exemplars of one-offs. The Article concludes that one-offs can play surprisingly useful roles in the work of an apex court. However, it cautions that such opinions stand in an uneasy relationship to cases that have deteriorated into what Justice Frankfurter once described as isolated “derelicts,” primed for overruling or simple death by neglect.

To read this Article, please click here: One-Offs.