Absurd Results, Scrivener's Errors, and Statutory Interpretation
61 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2007
The absurdity and scrivener's error doctrines are often considered inconsistent with textualist thinking to the extent they allow courts to evade a clear statutory command. This article draws on ideas developed in the philosophy of language to suggest that, contrary to recent commentary, the absurdity and scrivener's error doctrines can be reconciled with a textualist method of statutory interpretation.
The absurdity doctrine permits courts to reject applications of a statute which would produce grossly absurd results, while the scrivener's error doctrine permits courts to avoid obvious drafting errors. Both doctrines play an important role in statutory interpretation. However, textualist courts are generally concerned with applying the objective meaning of statutory language, as it would be understood in context by a competent reader. Revising statutory language to avoid absurdities or drafting errors is arguably in tension with this concern. This article will suggest that sufficiently absurd results, or sufficiently clear errors, would be taken into account by competent readers - gross absurdities and evident mistakes are relevant to a statutory text's objective meaning. Accordingly, a narrow form of both doctrines should be acceptable to textualist judges.
Keywords: Statutory Interpretation, Absurdity Doctrine, Scrivener's Error Doctrine, Textualism
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