Most law students spend their first year—or sometimes much longer—struggling to discern legal rules from judicial opinions. That is true even for relatively straightforward opinions. When they encounter splintered opinions—especially cases where no opinion commands a majority—the exercise becomes more difficult even for the most seasoned lawyer.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in an effort to add coherence to these not-infrequent instances of judicial disarray, created a rule to guide this process. The so-called Marks rule instructs courts, including the Supreme Court itself, to honor horizontal and vertical stare decisis even in the face of splintered decisions by discerning what proposition, if appropriately narrowed, would have commanded a majority. It is a hypothetical exercise and a controversial one. Legal scholar Richard Re has recently recommended that we cast it aside entirely, a position I embrace below.

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