A Decision Theory of Statutory Interpretation: Legislative History by the Rules
Victoria F. Nourse
Georgetown University Law Center
Yale Law Journal, Vol. 122, pp. 70-152, 2012
Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 12-150
We have a law of civil procedure, criminal procedure, and administrative procedure, but we have no law of legislative procedure. This failure has serious consequences in the field of statutory interpretation. Using simple rules garnered from Congress itself, this Article argues that those rules are capable of transforming the field of statutory interpretation. Addressing canonical cases in the field, from Holy Trinity to Bock Laundry, from Weber to Public Citizen, this article shows how cases studied by vast numbers of law students are made substantially more manageable, and in some cases quite simple, through knowledge of congressional procedure. No longer need legislative history always be a search for one’s friends.
Call this a decision theory of statutory interpretation. This approach is based on how Congress does in fact make decisions and thus is a positive theory. Normatively, it has the advantage of privileging text without blinding judges either to relevant information or to their duty to implement Congress’s decisions, including Congress’s own decisionmaking methods. It may also have the side benefit of reducing legislative incentives to manipulate the rules or to engage in strategic behavior to induce particular statutory interpretations.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 84Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: November 9, 2012
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