Testing Textualism’s 'Ordinary Meaning'
36 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2022
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
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