Testing Textualism’s 'Ordinary Meaning'

35 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2022 Last revised: 27 Jan 2023

See all articles by Tara Leigh Grove

Tara Leigh Grove

University of Texas School of Law

Date Written: August 14, 2022


This Foreword to an annual issue on Administrative Law explores the concept of “ordinary meaning” in statutory interpretation. The Foreword challenges two central assumptions underlying some recent empirical scholarship: first, that “ordinary meaning” should be viewed primarily as an empirical concept, and, second, that textualists themselves view “ordinary meaning” in empirical terms. As the Foreword shows, “ordinary meaning” can be understood as a legal concept, not simply as an empirical fact. Moreover, the Foreword demonstrates that many prominent textualists have long treated “ordinary meaning” as a legal concept—one that must be elucidated through the understanding of a hypothetical reasonable reader (although, as the Foreword discusses, textualists debate how well-informed such a reasonable reader should be). This analysis complicates recent efforts to test empirically whether textualists have reached the “right answer” in specific cases. For many textualists, like many other interpretive theorists, statutory analysis is primarily a normative, not an empirical, enterprise.

Keywords: textualism, statutory interpretation, ordinary meaning

Suggested Citation

Grove, Tara Leigh, Testing Textualism’s 'Ordinary Meaning' (August 14, 2022). George Washington Law Review, Vol. 90, No. 5, 2022, U of Texas Law, Legal Studies Research Paper , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4190031

Tara Leigh Grove (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

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