Statutory Interpretation in the Context of Federal Jurisdiction
Debra Lyn Bassett
Southwestern Law School
George Washington Law Review, Vol. 76, 2007
U of Alabama Public Law Research Paper No. 1026592
Recently the Supreme Court has suggested that despite the distinctive nature of jurisdictional statutes, such statutes implicate only traditional notions of statutory construction. Indeed, the Court's most recent jurisdictional statutory interpretation decision, Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., seemed to suggest that there was nothing special about jurisdictional statutes. But, as this Article explains, this has not been, and is not, true.
The distinctive nature of federal jurisdiction statutes demands a more constitutionally-oriented interpretive approach - traditional methods of statutory interpretation are inadequate because they fail to take this unique character into account. Jurisdictional statutes are subject to unique interpretive difficulties not encountered in the judicial construction of ordinary congressional legislation. These unique interpretive difficulties necessitate a wider range of considerations in the jurisdictional arena, including the traditional rules of statutory construction plus the Constitution itself as an interpretive document - all the while being cognizant of the potential for separation of powers and conflict of interest issues. In short, this Article proposes that in approaching their tasks of statutory construction in this area involving the reach of their own powers, federal courts should be guided by rules as understood and informed by the gravitational pull of Article III, and saving constructions are inappropriate. I explore these interpretive issues in the specific context of the interpretation of the 1988 amendment to 1332 pertaining to permanent resident aliens - an odd and interesting provision that has generated three different interpretive results from the three circuit courts that have examined it, despite the unconstitutionality of the statute's unambiguous plain language.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 47
Keywords: federal courts, federal jurisdiction, statutory interpretation, permanent resident aliens
Date posted: November 4, 2007