Confirmatory Legislative History
18 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2011
Date Written: January 13, 2011
The Supreme Court and lower courts often rely on legislative history to confirm or reinforce what they already have concluded is the plain meaning of statutory text. The Roberts Court has done so on numerous occasions since 2006: six of these majorities, including four cases decided during the 2009 Term, have drawn sharp rebukes from Justice Scalia.
This Essay maintains that persistent judicial reliance on confirmatory history reflects important shortcomings in the textualist approach. When courts move beyond the presumptively clear meaning of statutory language, they recognize - even if implicitly - that assertions of clarity can too often serve as either a mirage or a refuge. Clarity may be a mirage because apparently precise words or phrases often give rise to conflicting "plain meanings," and also because apparently assured readers of those words or phrases are conditioned to perceive clarity based on their own specialized training, background, and level of self-confidence. Assertions of clarity may serve as a refuge in that they obviate the need for judges to provide more complete explanations for their decisions. This aspiration for completeness, although not embraced by Justice Scalia, is important to many other judges as they seek to explain adjudicative resolutions before the diverse audiences to whom they are responsive and responsible.
Keywords: legislation, statutory interpretation, legislative history, courts, judges
JEL Classification: General Basic Areas of Law, Other Basic Areas of Law
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation