Bright-line Rule
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Bright-line Rule

A bright-line rule (or bright-line test) is a clearly defined rule or standard in the United States, 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. The term "bright-line" in this sense generally occurs in a legal context.

Bright-line rules are usually standards established by courts in legal precedent or by legislatures in statutory provisions. The Supreme Court of the United States often contrasts bright-line rules with their opposite: balancing tests (or "fine line testing"), where a result depends 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 former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, have expressed a strong preference for bright-line rules, critics often argue that bright-line rules are overly 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."[1] Over the course of the last three decades, many bright-line rules previously established in U.S. jurisprudence have been replaced with balancing tests.[]


Some observers[who?] consider the holding in Miranda v. Arizona to constitute a bright-line rule. The majority opinion in that case required law enforcement to advise a criminal suspect of certain rights whenever two conditions were met: 1) the suspect was in custody, and 2) the suspect was about to be interrogated.

Notable cases containing bright-line rules


  1. ^ Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103, 125, 126 S. Ct. 1515, 1529, 164 L. Ed. 2d 208, 229 (2006) (Breyer, J., concurring).

External links

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

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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