Mandatory v. Persuasive Authority

This guide is designed to teach first-year law students the difference between mandatory and persuasive authority and which courts are bound by which decisions and types of actions.

Mandatory v. Persuasive Authority Chart

Court Affected By Decision

Court Issuing Decision

US Supreme

Federal Appellate

Federal District

California Supreme

California Court of Appeal

California Superior Court

US Supreme

M

M

M

M – Fed Q

P – State Q

M – Fed Q

P – State Q

M – Fed Q

P – State Q

Federal Appellate

P

P

 

M – Same circuit

P – Other courts

P

P

P

Federal District

P

 

P

M – Same district

P – Other courts

P

P

P

California Supreme Court

M – State Q

P – Fed Q

M – State Q

P – Fed Q

M – State Q

P – Fed Q

M

M

M

California Court of Appeal

P*

P - Fed Q

P - State Q

P - Fed Q

M - State Q

P

P

M

California Superior Court

P

 

P

P

P

P

P (M on lower specialized courts)

Sources: http://faculty.law.lsu.edu/toddbruno/mandatory_v_persuasive.htm and Mary Whisner, Gallagher Law Library, UW

California-Specific Notes:

  1. Decisions of the CA Supreme Court are binding on all state courts in California. (Auto Equity Sales, Inc., 57 Cal. 2d 450, 455)
  2. Decisions of every division of every district of the CA Courts of Appeal are binding on all Superior Courts in California. (Auto Equity Sales, Inc., 57 Cal. 2d 450, 455)
  3. If appellate court decisions conflict, then the lower court must choose between the conflicting decisions. (Auto Equity Sales, Inc., 57 Cal. 2d 450, 456)
  4. The decision of one division or district of the CA Court of Appeal is NOT binding on another division or district (Sarti, 167 Cal. App. 4th 1187, 1193-94)
  5. The decision of one division is NOT binding on that same division. (see, e.g., Saucedo, 111 Cal. App. 3d 309, 315--same division of same appellate district overruled a holding it had made 2 years previously after considering criticism of that earlier holding and without any intervening change in statutory law or higher court decisions)
  6. For a discussion about stare decisis within California state courts, refer to Chapter 13 of Witkin California Procedure.

Secondary Source Analysis