Which Textualism?

43 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2020 Last revised: 11 Nov 2020

See all articles by Tara Leigh Grove

Tara Leigh Grove

University of Texas School of Law

Date Written: September 8, 2020


Scholars of interpretive theory have long engaged with the battle between textualism and purposivism. But this emphasis has obscured important divisions within textualism—divisions that were on full display in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. In holding that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination bars the disparate treatment of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals, the Court applied what this Comment calls “formalistic textualism”—an approach that instructs interpreters to carefully parse the statutory text, focusing on semantic context and downplaying other concerns. But the dissenting opinions responded with their own brand of textualism. The dissents’ more “flexible textualism” allows interpreters to make sense of a statutory text by looking at social context and practical consequences. This Comment explores these competing textualisms and—drawing on principles of judicial legitimacy—offers a theoretical case for preferring the formalistic version. But whether or not one accepts that bottom line, interpretive theorists should begin to explore the fact that judges apply not simply textualism, but textualisms.

Keywords: statutory interpretation, textualism, judicial legitimacy, employment discrimination

Suggested Citation

Grove, Tara Leigh, Which Textualism? (September 8, 2020). 134 HARV. L. REV. 265 (2020), U of Alabama Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3674050, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3674050

Tara Leigh Grove (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics