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

The structural deficit/GDP ratio of 4.2% today is without precedent except in times of all-out war. WSJ, "‘Sugar High’ Debate and Obama vs. Trump," 13 Dec. 2018 Keeping open a plant slated for closure is not without precedent for GM. Zeke Miller, The Seattle Times, "Angry over cutbacks, Trump threatens to end subsidies to GM," 27 Nov. 2018 Typically, Chief Justice Roberts has used the occasion to comment on matters of concern to judges, from laments over lagging salaries to courtroom safety, and this year’s report largely followed that precedent. Jess Bravin, WSJ, "Chief Justice Roberts Addresses Misconduct in Judiciary, Avoids Politics," 31 Dec. 2018 On one of their first public outings since their wedding back in November, the pair set a winning precedent that other couples are sure to follow. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk Take the Power Suit Into Couple’s Territory," 5 Dec. 2018 There is an 1873 precedent that the 14th Amendment only applies to former slaves, but that case did not deal with the matter of citizenship. Christianna Silva, Teen Vogue, "Trump's Plan to Revoke Birthright Citizenship Is Another Attack on Immigrants," 30 Oct. 2018 How does Kavanaugh feel about decades-old precedents? Martha F. Davis, Fortune, "Why Brett Kavanaugh Is a Huge Threat to Minority Rights," 10 July 2018 There have been precedents such as Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega, who came before a court in Miami in 1989, and former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori who was extradited from Chile in 2007 to face corruption chargers in Peru. Mimi Whitefield, miamiherald, "Campaign intensifies to indict Raúl Castro for deadly 1996 shoot-down of exile planes," 27 June 2018 The appeals board is typically the highest government authority on immigration law, but the attorney general has the power to assign cases to himself and set precedents. The Washington Post, OregonLive.com, "Supreme Court upholds Ohio's purges of its voter rolls," 11 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 and Noun

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

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Statistics for precedent

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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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WORD OF THE DAY

to settle judicially or to act as judge

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