Interpreting by the Book: Legislative Drafting Manuals and Statutory Interpretation

16 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2010 Last revised: 14 Nov 2010

See all articles by BJ Ard

BJ Ard

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: April 23, 2010


This Comment pursues two aims. First, it provides a brief overview of the types of advice contained within the House and Senate manuals. The contents of these manuals range from advice on what language to use so that an act will be properly interpreted to directions for formatting - including requirements for font size and line justification. Interestingly, federal courts have relied on drafting manuals in only three instances. In these instances, the courts ignored references to specific rules of construction or precedent and, instead, took note of advice aimed more generally at structure and the use of language.

Second, this Comment addresses the puzzle that these authorities pose for textualists. While these manuals generally support the textual canons and other textual tools of interpretation, it is unclear whether these manuals, which few people read, illuminate the ordinary meaning of the text or obscure it. In weighing the manuals'’ authority, it is instructive to contrast the manuals with other types of extrinsic sources, particularly dictionaries and legislative history.

The Comment concludes by arguing that the manuals are compatible with textualism because they are a credible form of extrinsic legislative material. They provide evidence of what drafters mean when they employ certain language.

Keywords: drafting manual, House Manual, Senate Manual, Senate Legislative Drafting Manual, House Legislative Counsel's Manual on Drafting Style, United States v. Carr

Suggested Citation

Ard, BJ, Interpreting by the Book: Legislative Drafting Manuals and Statutory Interpretation (April 23, 2010). 120 Yale L.J. 185 (2010), Available at SSRN:

BJ Ard (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706
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