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Simply put, the standard of review determines the degree to which a court must be persuaded in order to reverse a lower court's or agency's decision, or to invalidate a statute or other government action

There are several basic standards of review:

On the low end of the spectrum, we have the rational basis test. When courts apply rational basis scrutiny, they will not
"second guess the legislature as to the wisdom or rationality of a particular statute if there is a rational basis for its enactment, and if the challenged law bears a reasonable relationship to the attainment of some legitimate governmental objective."

-Black's Law Dictionary, 6th Ed.

Courts will generally apply rational basis in equal protection cases if the law does not target a suspect class or burden the exercise of a fundamental right.

A similar test applies to the findings of fact made by administrative agencies. Known as the substantial evidence rule, this standard requires that the challenged decision be upheld if

"supported by reasonable, substantial, and probative evidence on the record considered as a whole.' It can be reversed only if the evidence presented by {the applicant} was such that a reasonable factfinder would have to conclude that the requisite fear of persecution existed.” Woldemeskel v. INS, 257 F.3d 1185, 1189 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting INS v. Elias-Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 481 (1992))

Similarly, appellate courts review the findings of fact made by lower courts on the clear error standard. Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a). "A finding is "clearly erroneous" when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. United States Gypsum, 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948).

As Judge Posner once put it, "To be clearly erroneous, a decision must strike us as more than just maybe or probably wrong; it must . . . strike us as wrong with the force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish." Parts & Elec. Motors v. Sterling Elec., 866 F.2d 228, 233 (7th Cir. 1988) (Posner, J.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 847 (1989)).

On the other end of the spectrum, courts review the legal reasoning of lower courts de novo ("anew"). Since, unlike the evaluation of evidence and credibility of witnesses, an appellate court is in as good a position to apply the law to the facts as the trial court, an appellate court will reverse the legal conclusions of the lower court if it disagrees with the lower court.

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