Mother May I? Imposing Mandatory Prospective Rules of Statutory Interpretation

14 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2002  

Larry Alexander

University of San Diego School of Law

Saikrishna Prakash

University of Virginia School of Law

Abstract

May Congress enact laws that instruct courts and other interpreters how to interpret future laws? Although Congress has understood its powers to include such a power, and although a recent article calls for Congress to exercise such a power more extensively than it has, we argue that Congress lacks such a power. Thus, previous exercises of the alleged power, such as the Dictionary Act, are unconstitutional. Moreover, we argue that arguments for such a power premised on the courts' possessing the power to constrain Congress through canons of statutory interpretation rest on an equally dubious foundation: judicial canons of construction that dictate outcomes different from what Congress means those outcomes to be - canons such as the Ashwander canon - are themselves constitutionally infirm. We argue that neither the courts nor Congress through canons or rules of interpretation can legitimately constrain the interpretation of statutes.

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Larry and Prakash, Saikrishna, Mother May I? Imposing Mandatory Prospective Rules of Statutory Interpretation. U San Diego Public Law Research Paper No. 42. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=342262 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.342262

Lawrence Alexander (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-2317 (Phone)
619-260-4728 (Fax)

Saikrishna Prakash

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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