Civil Rules Interpretive Theory
76 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2016 Last revised: 14 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 25, 2016
We claim that the proper method of interpreting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure — civil rules interpretive theory — should be recognized as a distinct field of scholarly inquiry and judicial practice. Fundamentally, the Rules are not statutes. Yet the theories of statutory interpretation that are typically imported into Rules cases by the courts rely upon a principle of legislative supremacy that is inapplicable in this context. That said, we recognize the Rules as authoritative law that is generally amenable to a form of jurisprudential purposivism. Working from this newly elucidated normative foundation, we reject the Rules-as-statutes interpretive approach so often forwarded by the Supreme Court. We turn next to the two alternative interpretive approaches to the Rules in the nascent scholarly literature. We reject the inherent authority model, which views the Court as an unconstrained policymaker in Rules cases, as failing to respect rule-of-law values. We also decline to adopt the regime-specific purposive model because it fails to recognize that the Court faces a question of policymaking form in Rules cases and disregards the institutional advantages provided by the court rulemaking process. Rather, we advocate for an administrative-law model of Rules interpretation that respects the rule of law and promotes the institutional advantages appertaining to purposive textual interpretation by the high court, Advisory Committee policy setting, and lower court application of discretion.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation