An otherwise mind-numbing Supreme Court ruling Tuesday morning nonetheless contains an interesting debate among the justices about an issue that often comes up during confirmation hearings: stare decisis, or the importance of respecting precedent. Justice Stephen Breyer, in reading a summary of his decision from the bench, seemed to deliberately highlight what he wrote about the issue, which actually takes up only a few sentences at the end of the 7-2 decision.

At issue in the case decided Tuesday, John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States, was the statute of limitations for claims involving mining leases made to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In reaching his conclusion, Breyer relied on a series of precedents dating back to the 1880s. But he also discussed somewhat related and more modern decisions that the petitioner, the gravel company, asserts have rendered the older precedents “anomalous.”

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