Whether a court decision is persuasive authority or mandatory authority depends on the rank and jurisdiction of the courts involved. A decision by a lower court is persuasive authority for a higher court. Therefore, a decision by any other court is persuasive authority for the Supreme Court because it is the highest court in the United States. In general, a decision by a court of the same rank is persuasive authority. For example, trial court decisions are not binding in the same trial court. A decision by a court of one jurisdiction is persuasive authority for courts of another jurisdiction. For example, decisions by federal courts do not bind state courts and vice versa, and decisions by courts of other states do not bind the forum state court.
Although court decisions of persuasive authority are not binding precedent, a court may choose to rely on and follow the decisions. Cases such as this one from Michigan explain that a court may follow the decisions of another jurisdiction if the reasoning is persuasive. Courts may also look to decisions from other jurisdictions for guidance; for example, when deciding issues of first impression—like this one from Colorado—or matters in which the forum state law is unclear—like this one from Utah. A court, however, will not follow decisions of persuasive authority when the decision is against the forum jurisdiction’s public policy.
[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]