You Can Look it Up: The Use of Dictionaries in Interpreting Statutes
Louisville Bar Briefs, pp. 14-15, July 2007
3 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2007 Last revised: 7 Jul 2008
Justice Antonin Scalia's well-known preference for using dictionaries rather than legislative history to interpret statutes is the jumping off point for an examination of the tools of textual analysis. The brief article offers common-sense rules for scientifically selecting dictionaries to interpret statutory language. First, the author describes the most respected unabridged dictionaries and their history. Next, there is a discussion of the principle that the dictionary selected should be relatively contemporaneous with the text interpreted. Finally, the use of specialized dictionaries to interpret the unique terminology of a trade or profession is detailed.
Keywords: legal research, textualism, statutory interpretation, legislative history, dictionaries
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