Prof. Joyce Savio Herleth
Director, Office of Academic Advsing
Other court statements about the law, while important but not necessary to reach the decision, are called dicta. Dictum is never essential to the outcome of that particular case. In fact, “obiter dictum” means “spoken along the side or way,” which suggests the nonessential character of the statement. One way to determine if the statements are dicta is to ask yourself: “Did the court rule for/against the plaintiff/defendant because ….” Fill in the blank with the legal statements you are trying to decide are dicta. If it is part of the reasoning for the holding, it will make sense. If not, it is dicta.
As the positive side, however, dictum is often a good predictor how the court may rule in future cases – or to indicate the factual limitations of the holding. Nevertheless, there are differences between the two and you need to remember those distinctions.
Reading cases, briefing, and synthesizing the law which may or may not include both holding and dicta, are essential skills. To learn more about this process of moving from cases to briefs to synthesis, please attend my workshop on Reading in Law School on Tuesday August 24th at noon in room 303, and Wednesday at 6 p.m. in room 02. Sodas will be provided – bring your lunch/dinner!