Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Judges Prefer Giving Statutes Their Plain Meaning

After judging some moot court arguments with practicing judges, I discovered a major reason why judges prefer to find that a statute is not ambiguous and that its true construction lies with the plain ordinary meaning of the words. The plain meaning rule offers an efficient way to decide a case.

If statutory language is ambiguous, a court may be compelled to interpret it in light of other provisions in the statute or to dive into its legislative history. Those techniques demand a commitment of time and rarely yield an unassailably conclusive answer. And the world of legislative history is particularly murky.

Therefore, it is inviting to opt to construe the statute by relying solely on the plain meaning of the text. Of course, sometimes ambiguities force a court to look beyond the plain meaning. However, one can understand how attractive the least time consuming method can be.


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