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4gold
QUOTE(Henry M. Hart @ Jr. & Albert M. Sacks, The Legal Process, page 1169)
Do not expect anybody's theory of statutory interpretation, whether it is your own or somebody else's, to be an accurate statement of what courts actually do with statutes.  The hard truth of the matter is that American courts have no intelligible, generally accepted, and consistently applied theory of statutory interpretation.


Currently, there are no accepted rules of interpreting statutory laws for judges. Each judge can choose his or her own method of interpreting statutory law. According to Justice Antonin Scalia, less than a fifth of the issues the Court confronts are Constitutional issues, which makes interpreting the meaning of federal statutes the far majority of the work federal judges do.

One common theory of interpreting federal statutes is that when the text of a statute is clear, that is the end of the matter.

Another theory of interpreting the federal statutes is that legislative intent should be considered, even if the text of the statute is clear. In other words, the law should be enforced by what the legislator meant, not what he said.

Questions for debate:

Should judges adhere to a uniformly applied set of rules on how to interpret statutory law?

If yes, which should be more authoritative: legislative text or legislative intent?
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Gray Seal
I agree with the intent of you question. It would be good if the intent of legislation was clearly stated in the text of the legislation. I have wondered if it would not be a good idea to require all new law to have a statement of intent as well as the text of the new rule.

If you, or anyone, can come up with a means to judge the application of law correctly via an uniformly applied set of rules I am eager to know about it. I can not see how. We are stuck with the judgement of man in the end. There is no way around this that I can see. We have to find the best group of people we can to ultimately apply the law. If we do not have a means to find these people, justice will be less than it could be.
hayleyanne
Excellent questions 4gold. Rules of statutory interpretation should be at the heart our constitutional rulings.

Should judges adhere to a uniformly applied set of rules on how to interpret statutory law?

Yes, absolutely. Those rules should carry over and be applied not only to statutes but also to the Constitution which is ultimately the highest order of "statute". Canons of construction do indeed exist, but are sometimes criticized as being inconsistent with one another. Courts should develop a consistent method and ordering for their application. We can learn from Europe in this regard as they are experts in statutory interpretation since they have a civil law system as opposed to a common law system. Most attorneys are trained in the common law method with its emphasis on arguing precedent but are sorely lacking an expertise in statutory interpretation.

If yes, which should be more authoritative: legislative text or legislative intent?

Although it is tempting to want to look to legislative intent-- the text must always be more authoritative. Legislative intent is usually gleaned from legislative history. Legislative history includes any number of things: the Committee reports (highest order of legislative history) and statements made by Congress during the debates over the legislation (not as persuasive). Legislative intent can only be viewed as persuasive and not authoritative because it is often times politically motivated (ex. statements made during the debates). Additionally, only the text itself is voted on by Congress. So, we have no way of knowing whether legislative history really incorporates the legislative intent of Congress. One thing that can and should be done-- is for Congress to include, as part of the statute itself, a statement of intent. In recent decades, this practice has become much more common and is very helpful when courts are later charged with resolving some kind of statutory ambiguity.
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