Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Cessante Ratione Legis, Cessat Ipsa Lex Definition:

Latin: The reason for a law ceasing, the law itself ceases.

Many if not all laws are brought in to respond to situations that exists at the time of the law. Society evolves and the time comes when a law, still on the law books, has no relevance to modern society.

For example, martial law declared in a time of crisis quickly loses relevance as the society calms down or the crisis goes away and martial law is no longer required - Cessante ratione legis, cessat et ipsa lex - the reason for a law ceasing, the law itself ceases.

The omission to remove irrelevant laws often creates a situation colloquially known as crazy laws, of which we have an entire collection.

Cessante Ratione Legis, Cessat Ipsa LexIn Fox v. Snow, the Supreme Court of New Jersey provided posterity with a comprehensive explanation of the maxim:

"Cessante ratione legis, cessat et ipsa lex - the reason for a law ceasing, the law itself ceases -  is one of the most ancient maxims known to our law and it is constantly followed by our courts. This means that no law can survive the reason on which it is founded. It needs no statute to change it; it abrogates itself.

"The same thought was enunciated by Lord Coke in Milborn's Case: Ratio legis est anima legis, et mutata legis ratione, mutatur ex lex - the reason for a law is the soul of the law, and if the reason for a law has changed, the law is changed.

"'It is revolting,' says Mr. Justice Holmes, 'to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past (and) to rest upon a formula is a slumber that, prolonged, means death.'"

"Holdsworth, in commenting on this quotation from Mr. Justice Holmes, has described how the Anglo-American system of case law has enabled the judges, within fairly wide limits, to apply to old precedents a process of selection and rejection which brings the law into conformity with modern conditions.

"'This process of selection and rejection,' he says, 'has been applied to the law laid down in the Year Books; and generally the rules there laid down, which are still part of our modern law, have survived because they suit modern needs.

"It is as important to the growth of the law that it should have the inherent power to cast off outmoded or erroneous rules of law as that it have the capacity for developing new doctrines suited to the needs of the times."

Justice Sutherland of the Supreme Court of United States adopted these words in Funk v. United States:

"... cessante ratione legis, cessat ipsa lex ... This means that no law can survive the reasons on which it is founded. It needs no statute to change it; it abrogates itself. If the reasons on which a law rests are overborne by opposing reasons, which in the progress of society gain a controlling force, the old law, though still good as an abstract principle, and good in its application to some circumstances, must cease to apply as a controlling principle to the new circumstances."

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