Interpreting State Statutes in Federal Court

67 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2021 Last revised: 23 Nov 2022

Date Written: November 8, 2022


This Article addresses a problem that potentially arises whenever a federal court encounters a state statute. When interpreting the state statute, should the federal court use the state’s methods of statutory interpretation—the state’s canons of construction, its rules about the use of legislative history, and the like—or should the court instead use federal methods of statutory interpretation? The question is interesting as a matter of theory, and it is practically significant because different jurisdictions have somewhat different interpretive approaches. In addressing itself to this problem, the Article makes two contributions. First, it shows, as a normative matter, that federal courts should
generally use state methods, though there should be exceptions in situations in which using state methods would impair federal interests or depart from the state’s own understanding of its methodology’s scope. Second, the Article shows, through a systematic review, that federal courts are mostly applying state interpretive approaches today, a conclusion that runs contrary to the views of other commentators.

[former title: Solving Statutory Interpretation's Erie Problem]

Keywords: statutory interpretation, legislation, statutes, Erie doctrine, federal courts, federalism, conflict of laws

Suggested Citation

Bruhl, Aaron-Andrew P., Interpreting State Statutes in Federal Court (November 8, 2022). 98 Notre Dame Law Review 61 (2022), Available at SSRN: or

Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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