Missing the Mark: An Overlooked Statute Redefines the Debate Over Statutory Interpretation
23 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2010
Date Written: November 10, 2009
Legal scholars have long debated the choice between textualist and intentionalist methods for interpreting statutes. At the center of this debate is Holy Trinity Church v. United States, where the Supreme Court deliberately departed from statutory language. Remarkably, scholars neglect a statute that squarely addressed the issue in the case. This article argues that the neglected statute provides a powerful argument for the Court's result.
The article then considers the implications of this argument for the current debate. The neglected statute reveals that statutory interpretation often turns not on the choice between text and intent but on the choice between competing texts. Making this choice requires an enriched description of the legislative process. The article offers such an account, one recognizes the relative roles of policy specialists, politicians and public opinion.
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