Bright line rule

Bright-line rule

A bright-line rule, or bright-line test, is a term generally used in law which describes a clearly defined rule or standard, composed of objective factors, which leaves little or no room for varying interpretation. The purpose of a bright-line rule is to produce predictable and consistent results in its application.

Bright-line rules are usually standards established by courts in legal precedent or by legislatures in statutory provisions. Bright-line rules are often contrasted with "squishy" balancing tests, where a result is dependent on weighing several factors, which could lead to inconsistent application of law or reduce objectivity.

Debate in the US

In the United States, there is much scholarly legal debate between those favoring bright-line rules and those favoring balancing tests. While some legal scholars, such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, have expressed a strong preference for bright-line rules, critics often argue that bright-line rules are over-simplistic and can lead to harsh and unjust results. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer noted that there are circumstances in which the application of bright-line rules would be inappropriate, stating that "no single set of legal rules can ever capture the ever changing complexity of human life. Over the course of the last three decades, many bright-line rules previously established in U.S. jurisprudence have been replaced with balancing tests.

Examples of bright-line rules

  • Statutory rape laws - In all U.S. states, sexual intercourse with a minor is a crime. In most states, the age of the victim and the age of the accused are the only relevant factors determinative of guilt or innocence. Because it is a bright-line rule, there is no balancing test to examine factors such as mistake of the accused, the misrepresentation of age by the minor, or the minor's consent to sexual intercourse.

Notable cases containing bright-line rules


External links

  • Language Log Discussion of the phrase, with examples and history

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