05-15-2024 General by Steve Velkei

Black Letter Law: What It Means (and What It Doesn’t) in California

Black letter law. As a first-year law student, it’s one of the first concepts you learn. You learn that black letter law is well-settled—that it is so beyond dispute that most judges will simply take it for granted. Not only will they take for granted that the relevant black letter law governs a particular dispute, but they will take for granted that it should continue to govern all disputes in the future. But this isn’t the case. Or, at least, it isn’t always the case. We saw this play out a couple of years ago in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization (2022). This was the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade (1973). The court’s decision in Roe had stood for nearly 50 years, and it was often cited as one of the most fundamental examples of black letter law. Until it wasn’t. Dobbs was a wake-up call for many lawyers and law professors. It served as a stark and disheartening reminder that nothing is ever truly settled when humans are involved. Humans have different beliefs, preferences, and motives, and those who are in positions of authority can effect significant change—for better or for worse.

The Fallacy of Black Letter Law

Of course, the fallacy of black letter law isn’t inherently a bad thing. Judges can (and do) exercise their authority to promote equity and inclusion as well. When it comes to resolving legal disputes, the facts matter—and the more parties (and their counsel) do to show that the facts matter, the more they can do to effect positive change. This is one of the true bedrocks of legal practice, and it is a guiding principle within our firm. We take cases that matter—to our clients, to us, and to the public at large. When we take cases, we look at not only what the “black letter law” says is likely to happen, but we also look at what should happen under the circumstances, and we use this as our north star. Why? Because humans matter. Not only do humans have beliefs, preferences, and motives, but they also have passions, feelings, and ambitions. And judges and juries want to do the right thing.  As lawyers at Velkei Law, we want judges and juries to be motivated to do the right thing by telling a narrative that appeals to their fundamental sense of justice.  And, generally speaking, the case law gives those finders of fact discretion to base their decisions on the specific facts of the case.  That is the fundamental foundation of the case law method.  Facts matter. We care deeply about our clients, and we believe that fulfilling our role as legal advocates means much more than adhering to rigid views of the law. Just because something has been done a certain way in the past, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be (or should be) done that way going forward.

Speak with a Lawyer at Velkei Law

Do you have a particular dispute that you want to discuss with a lawyer who will advocate for you and approach your representation with creativity and passion?  If so, we invite you to get in touch. To speak with a lawyer at Velkei Law, give us a call at 310-601-4626 or tell us how we can reach you online today.