Enacted Legislative Findings and Purposes
56 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2019
Date Written: March 13, 2018
Statutory interpretation scholarship generally imagines a sharp divide between statutory text and legislative history. This Article shows that scholars have failed to consider the implications of a hybrid type of text that is enacted by Congress and signed by the president, but which looks like legislative history. This text commonly appears at the beginning of a bill under headings such as “Findings” and “Purposes.” This enacted text often provides a detailed rationale for legislation and sets out Congress’s intent and purposes. Notably, it is drafted in plain language by political congressional staff rather than technical drafters, so it may be the portion of the enacted text that is most accessible to members of Congress and their high-level staff. Despite enacted findings and purposes’ apparent importance to interpretation, courts infrequently reference them and lack a coherent theory of how they should be used in statutory interpretation. In most cases in which courts have referenced them, they have relegated them to a status similar to that of unenacted legislative history despite the fact that they are less subject to formalist and pragmatic objections. Perhaps because courts have infrequently and inconsistently relied on enacted findings and purposes, scholars have also failed to consider them, so their relevance to statutory interpretation has gone mostly unrecognized and untheorized in the legal literature.
This Article argues that all of the enacted text of a statute must be read together and with equal weight, as part of the whole law Congress enacted, to come up with an interpretation that the entire text can bear. This is more likely to generate an interpretation in line with Congress’s intent than a mode of interpretation that focuses on the specific meaning of isolated terms based on dictionaries, canons, unenacted legislative history, or other unenacted tools. This Article shows that, when textualists’ formalist arguments against legislative history are taken off the table, there may be less that divides textualists from purposivists. Enacted findings and purposes may offer a text-based, and therefore more constrained and defensible, path forward for purposivism, which has been in retreat in recent decades in the face of strong textualist attacks.
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