The Food Stays in the Kitchen: Everything I Needed to Know About Statutory Interpretation I Learned by the Time I Was Nine
Hillel Y. Levin
University of Georgia Law School
October 10, 2008
Green Bag 2D, Vol. 12, p. 337, 2009
What happens when kids and their parents interpret laws like lawyers and judges? Where and why does interpretation go off the rails?
Based on a true story, this piece starts with a proclamation by Mother, the Supreme Lawmaker, that "no food may be eaten outside the kitchen." What follows is a series of rulings by Judges - father, babysitter, grandma (a liberal jurist, of course), etc. - who, using traditional tools of interpretation, eventually declare it to mean that all food may be eaten outside of the kitchen. Ultimately, the supreme lawmaker reacts and clarifies.
The piece is meant to demonstrate the following:
* We all regularly use the basic tools and modes of statutory interpretation;
* When we interpret pronouncements in real life, we resort to a mix of textualist, literalist, purposivist, legal process, precedent, and other techniques and sources;
* Although the various tools seem perfectly reasonable individually, in the aggregate, they can lead to ridiculous results;
* Even when we agree that the ultimate results are ridiculous, it is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly where the error occurred;
* The legislature can sometimes clean up after bad judicial opinions, but it often takes a long time.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 8Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: October 28, 2008 ; Last revised: February 13, 2011
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