Two Kinds of Plain Meaning

10 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2012

See all articles by Victoria Nourse

Victoria Nourse

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2011


Is plain meaning so plain? This is not meant to be a philosophical question, but one deserving serious legal analysis. The plain-meaning rule claims to provide certainty and narrow statutes' domains. The author agrees with, as a relative claim, comparing plain meaning with purposivism. She does not agree that plain-meaning analysis is as easy as its proponents suggest. In this piece, the author teases out two very different ideas of plain meaning -- ordinary/popular meaning and expansive/legalist meaning -- suggesting that doctrinal analysis requires more than plain-meaning simpliciter. Perhaps more importantly, she argues that plain meaning, as legalist meaning, can quite easily expand a statute's scope, relative to a baseline of ordinary meaning or the status quo ex ante.

Keywords: constitutional interpretation, textualism, legal theory, statutory interpretation, plain meaning, labor law

JEL Classification: K30, K31, K39

Suggested Citation

Nourse, Victoria, Two Kinds of Plain Meaning (2011). Brooklyn Law Review, Vol. 76, pp. 991-1005, 2011, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 12-095, Available at SSRN:

Victoria Nourse (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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

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