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Absurdity in Disguise: How Courts Create Statutory Ambiguity to Conceal Their Application of the Absurdity Doctrine

60 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2017  

Laura Rae Dove

Troy University

Date Written: September 15, 2017

Abstract

Although explicitly invoked only in rare cases, the absurdity doctrine is far more robust in practice than commonly assumed. This is because of a phenomenon I call “absurdity in disguise,” wherein judges use the anomalous or undesirable results of applying a statute’s ordinary meaning to “create” statutory ambiguity, opening the door to a variety of interpretive tools that would otherwise be unavailable. Ironically, the use of ambiguity to conceal the use of the absurdity doctrine is a direct result of judges’ increasing acceptance of textualist methods of statutory interpretation. Because textualism eschews results-oriented interpretive approaches, judges who wish to avoid a result of applying statutory text as written must employ text-centric arguments to do so. This article identifies the concept of absurdity in disguise and reveals its use in a variety of decisions at all levels of the federal courts.

Keywords: statutory interpretation, courts, legislation

Suggested Citation

Dove, Laura Rae, Absurdity in Disguise: How Courts Create Statutory Ambiguity to Conceal Their Application of the Absurdity Doctrine (September 15, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3037620

Laura Dove (Contact Author)

Troy University ( email )

Troy, AL
United States

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