The Paradox of Expansionist Statutory Interpretations

98 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2006


In this article, we revisit the relationship between judicial interpretation of legislation and policymaking in the modern Congress. We develop a model of legislative decisionmaking, drawn from the influential work of positive political theory, and use this model to consider a puzzle in the contemporary lawmaking process, that is, what explains the dearth of progressive social legislation in the period from the early 1970's to the present? We argue that much of this demise of the progressive legislative agenda can be attributed to the decision of influential interest groups to push aggressively for expansionist interpretations of regulatory statutes, interpretations that go well beyond the terms of the statute and, as well, beyond the expectations of the legislators whose support was critical in securing the passage of this legislation. Paradoxically, as we explain, these expansions have made it more difficult for legislators to reach agreements within the lawmaking process and thereby defeated the very agendas for which interest groups have pushed. Moreover, these expansionist interpretations have contributed to the growing polarization within the modern Congress.

Keywords: statutory interpretation, regulation, political economy, legislation

JEL Classification: K00, K23

Suggested Citation

Rodriguez, Daniel B. and Weingast, Barry R., The Paradox of Expansionist Statutory Interpretations. Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 101, 2006; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 07-39. Available at SSRN:

Daniel B. Rodriguez (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Barry R. Weingast

Stanford University, Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
650-723-0497 (Phone)
650-723-1808 (Fax)

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