The Politics of Legislative Drafting: A Congressional Case Study

51 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2010

See all articles by Victoria Nourse

Victoria Nourse

Georgetown University Law Center

Jane S. Schacter

Stanford Law School

Date Written: 2002

Abstract

In judicial opinions construing statutes, it is common for judges to make a set of assumptions about the legislative process that generated the statute under review. For example, judges regularly impute to legislators highly detailed knowledge about both judicial rules of interpretation and the substantive area of law of which the statute is a part. Little empirical research has been done to test this picture of the legislative process. In this Article, Professors Nourse and Schacter take a step toward filling this gap with a case study of legislative drafting in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Their results stand in sharp contrast to the traditional judicial story of the drafting process. The interviews conducted by the authors suggest that the drafting process is highly variable and contextual; that staffers, lobbyists, and professional drafters write laws rather than elected representatives; and that although drafters are generally familiar with judicial rules of construction, these rules are not systematically integrated into the drafting process. The case study suggests not only that the judicial story of the legislative process is inaccurate but also that there might be important differences between what the legislature and judiciary value in the drafting process: While courts tend to prize what the authors call the "interpretive" virtues of textual clarity and interpretive awareness, legislators are oriented more toward "constitutive" virtues of action and agreement. Professors Nourse and Schacter argue that the results they report, if reflective of the drafting process generally, raise important challenges for originalist and textualist theories of statutory interpretation, as well as Justice Scalia's critique of legislative history. Even if the assumptions about legislative drafting made in the traditional judicial story are merely fictions, they nonetheless play a role in allocating normative responsibility for creating statutory law. The authors conclude that their case study raises the need for future empirical research to develop a better understanding of the legislative process.

Keywords: statute, judicial review, legislative process, legislation, interpretation

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Nourse, Victoria and Schacter, Jane S., The Politics of Legislative Drafting: A Congressional Case Study (2002). New York University Law Review, Vol. 77, pp. 575-623, 2002, University of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper Series Archival Collection, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1527043

Victoria Nourse (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

Jane S. Schacter

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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