Fictions of Omniscience

66 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2014 Last revised: 12 Sep 2014

See all articles by Karen Petroski

Karen Petroski

Saint Louis University School of Law

Date Written: July 22, 2014


Recent studies of the legislative process have questioned the rationales for many principles of statutory interpretation. One of those traditional rationales is the so-called fiction of legislative omniscience, understood to underpin many judicial approaches to statutory decisions. This Article presents the first comprehensive analysis of judicial assertions about legislative awareness and proposes a new way to understand them. The proposed perspective compares fictions of legislative omniscience with similar but more widely accepted imputations of knowledge in other areas of law; it also draws on recent findings from other disciplines regarding how we use and respond to statements about fictional states of affairs. The comparisons indicate that judges’ imputations of unrealistic knowledge to legislatures are best seen not as unfair demands, but as important parts of the story judges typically tell about the law in our legal system, according to which the legislature and judiciary play complementary roles in pursuit of compatible goals. Rather than impairments of judicial legitimacy, these imputations are descriptions of the necessarily aspirational grounds of legal legitimacy.

Keywords: statutory interpretation, legal fictions, legislative process, judicial reasoning

Suggested Citation

Petroski, Karen, Fictions of Omniscience (July 22, 2014). Saint Louis U. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-15, Available at SSRN: or

Karen Petroski (Contact Author)

Saint Louis University School of Law ( email )

100 N. Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63101
United States
(314) 977-2773 (Phone)

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