Judicial Restraint: Definition, Examples & Cases

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  • 0:01 Definition of Judicial…
  • 1:30 Example of Judicial Restraint
  • 2:10 Judicial Restraint Case
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you complete this lesson, you will understand what constitutes judicial restraint. Moreover, you will review examples and an important case involving judicial restraint to gain a firm grasp of this concept.

Definition of Judicial Restraint

Imagine that your friends, Jack and Lena, are having an argument about where to find the cheapest dishwasher. Jack wants to go to Larry's Houseware, while Lena wants to go to Home Renovators. The two cannot decide, so they ask you to find out the cost and make a decision.

You learn that Home Renovators has the machine for $0.25 less than Larry's Houseware. While you feel that this is just a minor difference, you nevertheless report back to your friends that the Home Renovators store has the cheapest dishwasher. Even though you personally feel that Larry's Houseware has better quality products worth the price, you made your decision by the slight difference in price.

This example is similar to judicial restraint if it was a decision based simply on the price and no other influences. Even though you may prefer shopping at Larry's Houseware, you made your recommendation by price alone, leaving your own personal opinions out of the determination.

Judicial restraint can best be described as a type of conservative legal decision that is made solely according to the law and by legal precedent. Legal precedent consists of prior court decisions. These decisions may be turned to for current pending legal decisions. For example, instead of relying on any personal or political beliefs of his or her own, a judge who uses legal precedent would make a determination based on how the court decided on similar cases in the past.

Example of Judicial Restraint

One way to gain insight into judicial restraint is to review an example. Imagine that there is a law stating that owners of red cars are subject to a special tax. Subsequently, there is a case that goes to court. The court must perform a review of the law to see if it is constitutional. The judge decides to apply the law alone and finds that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause. The judge's opinion is based only on the Equal Protection Clause; there is no personal or political bias in the opinion whatsoever. This is an example of classic judicial restraint because the decision is strictly limited to the facts and law only.

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