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Slippery Slope Arguments and Legal Reasoning

Eric Lode
California Law Review
Vol. 87, No. 6 (Dec., 1999), pp. 1469-1543
DOI: 10.2307/3481050
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3481050
Page Count: 75
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Slippery Slope Arguments and Legal Reasoning
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Abstract

Slippery slope arguments pervade the legal discourse. Such arguments generally hold that we should resist a particular practice or policy, either on the grounds that allowing it could lead us to allow another practice or policy that is clearly objectionable, or on the grounds that we can draw no rationally defensible line between the two. Using examples of slippery slope arguments that have been invoked in various debates concerning law and social policy, this Comment analyzes the roles that slippery slope arguments can play in legal reasoning. After discussing the basic structure of slippery slope arguments and distinguishing among some of their different forms, the author argues that the context in which someone invokes a slippery slope argument can influence that argument's strength. The author then discusses some of the reasons why judges may be troubled by the thought of stepping on a slippery slope. While some such worries are unfounded, others cannot be so easily dismissed. The author argues that slippery slope arguments that rely on predictions can be valid arguments. He also both describes some of the factors that can help fuel slides down such slippery slopes and provides some general guidelines for evaluating those slippery slope arguments that rely on predictive claims. The author then describes some of the roles that slippery slope arguments can play in judicial decision making, even in those cases in which a judge thinks that the claims of such arguments do not provide sufficient grounds for resisting the practice under consideration altogether. In addition, the author argues that slippery slope arguments can be valuable in ways that people often fail to notice. Sometimes, the problems implicit in the case at the top of the slope will be accentuated in the case at the bottom. Reflecting on the latter can illuminate problems associated with the former. Such reflections can provide grounds for resisting the case at the top, even if we are not persuaded by the literal claims of the relevant slippery slope argument. This Comment thus concludes by arguing that there are good reasons for rethinking some of the roles that slippery slope arguments can play in legal debates.

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