Thursday, March 1, 2018
How does the NLRB typically do statutory interpretation? For her paper An Empirical Examination of Statutory Interpretation, forthcoming in the Minnesota Law Review, Amy Semet looked closely at the less than 2 percent of NLRB opinions issued from 1993 to 2016 in which the Board majority didn't just refer to prior case decisions, but itself explicitly engaged in some kind of statutory interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act.
Among other things, for the 121 cases in which NLRB majority opinions interpreted the NLRA “as a matter of first impression,” Semet reports the kinds of statutory-interpretation arguments that appeared (p. 31, tbl. 1):
|Case Type||Text-Partial||Text-Primary||Language Canons||Leg. History|
And here, from the paper abstract, on what Semet ultimately found:
Overall, I find no ideological coherence to statutory methodology. Board members switch between textualist or purposive methods depending upon the partisan outcome sought. Indeed, Board members often use statutory methodologies to dueling purposes, with majority and dissenting Board members using the same statutory methodology to support contrasting outcomes. The Board has also changed how it interprets statutes over time, relying in recent years more on vague pronouncements of policy and less on precedent or legislative history.
In short, Semet concludes that “despite scholars arguing that agencies should interpret statutes differently than courts, in practice, this study indicates that the NLRB interprets its governing statute in similar fashion to how courts do.”