It’s fairly well-known that lawyers rely on precedent found in case law to formulate arguments in court, assess the merits of cases, and to guide their advice to clients on a variety of legal questions. There’s a big divide, though, in terms of the usefulness of precedent. Cases from a higher court (e.g., the North Carolina Court of Appeals, if you’re arguing before an N.C. Superior Court) within the same state are clearly strong precedent, and generally set forth rules that all lower courts are bound to follow (or risk a swift reversal on appeal). Cases from courts in other states or countries, however, are generally only considered “persuasive” precedent, and even then, only if they describe a similar situation or the exact same legal rule as the one being discussed or applied in the case at bar. As I’ve explored earlier in this blog, cases from England and the pre-Revolution colonial courts were often considered strongly persuasive, based on their status as sources of original precedent.
So, what about cases from North Carolina while it was a member of the Confederate States? Are those cases somehow applicable to today’s rendering of the law? It would seem so. While I haven’t ever personally seen a North Carolina case circa 1861-1865 applied in a brief (though I’m sure they have been), the opinions of CSA-era cases from the North Carolina Supreme Court are readily available on your friendly neighborhood legal research service or in a dusty case reporter at your local law library. I’ll explore this a little below.