Retaliation's Changing Landscape
Posted: 16 Jul 2014
Date Written: July 8, 2014
Over the past forty years, the Supreme Court has been asked to determine the meaning of ambiguous terms in numerous civil rights statutes. In some cases, the Court has taken a narrow, conservative view of such terms and, despite the absurd result, has justified its outcome by relying on the separation of powers doctrine and on Congress's ability to effectuate a different interpretation. The Court often has reached such a confined result by limiting its analysis to determining the plain meaning of the statutory text and by refusing to consider other valuable resources such as legislative history, purpose, and policy.
Yet in other instances, the Court has taken a broad, expansive approach to interpreting ambiguous statutory terms, justifying such judicial activism by examining the spirit and purpose of the underlying law and the justice achieved in reaching the result. This approach to statutory interpretation has been particularly controversial when the Court reaches a result that Congress clearly did not consider at the time the statute was enacted. Such rulings raise a more theoretical issue regarding the proper role of the Court; precisely, whether it should serve as a "superlegislature," incorporating public values into decisions involving statutory interpretation.
In just the last three years, the Supreme Court again has defined the scope of ambiguous statutory terms in three civil rights statutes. The Court's analysis has centered on whether statutory prohibitions of "discrimination" encompass claims of retaliation ...
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