Bright-line rule

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In United States constitutional law, a bright-line rule (or bright-line test) is a clearly defined rule or standard, 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 US Supreme Court 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[edit]

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]


Miranda v. Arizona (1966) may be considered establishing a bright-line rule. The majority opinion in that case required law enforcement agents to give a criminal suspect what is now known as a Miranda warning of their “Miranda” rights when the suspect is in custody, and when the suspect is about to be interrogated.

New Zealand - Taxation (Bright-line Test for Residential Land) Act 2015[edit]

The Taxation (Bright-line Test for Residential Land) Act 2015 is a form of Capital Gains Tax legislation in New Zealand. When it was introduced a bright-line test was described as, "a term used in law for a clearly-defined rule or standard, using objective factors, which is designed to produce predictable and consistent results."[2]

Notable cases containing bright-line rules[edit]

Notable cases not following bright-line rules[edit]


  1. ^ Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103, 125, 126 S. Ct. 1515, 1529, 164 L. Ed. 2d 208, 229 (2006) (Breyer, J., concurring).
  2. ^ "Taxation (Bright-line Test for Residential Land) Bill 59-2 (2015), Government Bill". Retrieved June 23, 2021.
  3. ^ Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970).
  4. ^ RET. October 30, 2017, 09:27 CST

External links[edit]

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