precedent

adjective
pre·​ce·​dent | \pri-ˈsē-dᵊnt, ˈpre-sə-dənt \

Definition of precedent 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: prior in time, order, arrangement, or significance

precedent

noun
prec·​e·​dent | \ˈpre-sə-dənt \

Definition of precedent (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : an earlier occurrence of something similar

2a : something done or said that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind a verdict that had no precedent

b : the convention established by such a precedent or by long practice

3 : a person or thing that serves as a model

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Synonyms & Antonyms for precedent

Synonyms: Adjective

antecedent, anterior, foregoing, former, preceding, previous, prior

Antonyms: Adjective

after, ensuing, following, later, posterior, subsequent, succeeding

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Precedent and the Supreme Court

Noun

A precedent is something that precedes, or comes before. The Supreme Court relies on precedents—that is, earlier laws or decisions that provide some example or rule to guide them in the case they're actually deciding. When hostages are being held for ransom, a government may worry about setting a bad precedent if it gives in. And a company might "break with precedent" by naming a foreigner as its president for the first time.

Examples of precedent in a Sentence

Adjective

behavior that may be explained by a precedent event in her troubled life

Noun

Suddenly, against all historical precedent just for that week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would have morphed into a well-organized and dependable outfit. — John McWhorter, National Review, 26 Sept. 2005 On July 12, in an action that seems to have been without precedent, the House voted, 355-0, to condemn a scientific article. — Jonathan Rauch, National Journal, 7 Aug. 1999 In cases close-run enough to require the Supreme court to decide them, precedent and principle are elastic enough, or complex enough, that justices can often decide either way without brazenly contradicting themselves. — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., New Republic, 20 & 27 Sept. 1993 We begin to appreciate the mystery when we realize that the act of naming, or denotation, is generically without precedent in natural history. — Walker Percy, "Naming And Being," 1960, in Signposts in a Strange Land1991 The judge's ruling was based on a precedent established by an earlier decision. He says that the government will set a dangerous precedent if it refuses to allow the protesters to hold a rally. The judge's ruling was based on legal precedent.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

But Israel has drawn the line at taking in refugees, citing potential security risks and fearing that such a move could set a precedent for letting in refugees from future conflicts on its border. Dina Kraft, The Christian Science Monitor, "Syrian civil war, on Israel's doorstep, brings swirl of changing attitudes," 11 July 2018 The Froome ruling now sets a precedent for future doping cases. Joe Lindsey, Outside Online, "The Chris Froome Ruling Just Broke Anti-Doping," 3 July 2018 The court has been down this road before, and shielding the president from subpoenas would count as a major reversal of precedent. Matt Viser, BostonGlobe.com, "For questions of presidential power, Brett Kavanaugh has several answers," 14 July 2018 Judges who overturn Roe won’t be perceived by conservatives as activists doing away with decades of precedent, but rather as intellectually honest jurists, reading the constitution as intended. Jill Filipovic, Time, "It's Naive to Think a Conservative Supreme Court Wouldn't Target Roe v. Wade," 12 July 2018 Justices also tend to dislike simply overturning past rulings (though the court’s five conservatives, including Mr Kennedy, displayed no such squeamishness in a recent case that overturned decades of precedent to weaken public-sector unions). The Economist, "A court with a solid conservative majority could reshape American life," 5 July 2018 Judges often speak reverently of the importance of precedent, and of upholding settled law even if do not agree with its underlying rationale. Jay Willis, GQ, "The Trump Administration Is Hell-Bent on Ending Affirmative Action," 3 July 2018 Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote a dissent joined by the court’s other three liberal justices, sharply criticized the majority for tossing aside four decades of precedent. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "The Supreme Court’s Conservatives Take Their Long-Awaited Shot at Unions," 27 June 2018 At the same time, the lower court is up to its old tricks, looking for ways to allow as many software patents as possible within the confines of Supreme Court precedent. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Why a 40-year-old SCOTUS ruling against software patents still matters today," 21 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'precedent.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of precedent

Adjective

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for precedent

Adjective

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin praecedent-, praecedens, present participle of praecedere — see precede

Noun

see precedent entry 1

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Time Traveler for precedent

The first known use of precedent was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for precedent

precedent

noun

English Language Learners Definition of precedent

: a similar action or event that happened at an earlier time

: something done or said that can be used as an example or rule to be followed in the future

: the usual or traditional way of doing something

precedent

noun
pre·​ce·​dent | \ˈpre-sə-dənt \

Kids Definition of precedent

: something that can be used as a rule or example to be followed in the future

precedent

adjective
pre·​ce·​dent | \pri-ˈsēd-ᵊnt, ˈpre-səd- \

Legal Definition of precedent 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: prior in time, order, arrangement, or significance — see also condition precedent at condition — compare subsequent

precedent

noun
prec·​e·​dent | \ˈpre-səd-ᵊnt \

Legal Definition of precedent (Entry 2 of 2)

: a judicial decision that should be followed by a judge when deciding a later similar case — see also stare decisis — compare dictum

Note: To serve as precedent for a pending case, a prior decision must have a similar question of law and factual situation. If the precedent is from the same or a superior jurisdiction (as the state's supreme court), it is binding upon the court and must be followed; if the precedent is from another jurisdiction (as another state's supreme court), it is considered only persuasive. Precedents may be overruled especially by the same court that originally rendered the decision.

History and Etymology for precedent

Adjective

Middle French, from Latin praecedent- praecedens, present participle of praecedere to go ahead of, come before

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Comments on precedent

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