May 26, 2009
Interesting Split on Plain Meaning under BAPCA
Section 707(b)(2)(A)(iii)(I) (no, I am not making that up) of the bankruptcy statutes, which creates a "means test" for when a case can be dismissed for abuse of the bankruptcy system has created an interesting split, addressed in In re Stewart. __ F. Supp.2d __ (Bankr. D. Or. March 16, 2009). That court wrote in part: "Although most courts on either side of the split agree that interpretation of § 707(b)(2)(A)(iii)(I) is governed by the plain language of the statute, their interpretations differ."
Although the case presents, I am sure, an interesting question for bankruptcy lawyers, it also raises to me the interesting question of ambiguity: how can any court, once there is a split in meaning, say that plain meaning controls, and that the statute is unambiguous?
May 01, 2009
Interpreting Earmarks: A new Article
Listening to Congress: Earmark Rules and Statutory Interpretation, by Rebecca M. Kysar and published in the Cornell Law Review is a timely piece! The SSRN abstract:
In the wake of recent scandals involving lobbying and special interest spending on Capitol Hill, each of the houses of the 110th Congress adopted unprecedented legislative, procedural rules that require broad disclosure of spending earmarks and tax provisions that benefit special interests. Recognizing the strong incentives for members of Congress to hide special interest deals within complex tax and spending legislation and through ambiguous drafting, scholars have long sought to bring such deals into the open in order to promote congressional deliberation and public accountability. Although the new reforms appear designed to address that laudable goal, the efficacy of the rules is doubtful given their self-referential status; that is, they rely upon the foxes to govern administration of the henhouse.
This Article begins by describing various tactics legislators have used or will likely use to evade the new disclosure regime, as well as deficiencies in the regime's design. The piece then explores the value of enlisting a force external to Congress as a response to the inherent weakness of endogenous, procedural rules. It concludes that although direct judicial review of legislation for compliance with the rules likely raises constitutional difficulties, judicial involvement through statutory interpretation offers a potential solution. Specifically, when interpreting ambiguous legislation that falls within the ambit of the disclosure rules, judges should assume the rules have functioned correctly; in other words, if no special interest beneficiary has been disclosed, judges should assume that none was intended and interpret the ambiguous provisions accordingly. The proposal thus strengthens congressional adherence to the rules by imposing costs upon defecting lawmakers, as well as the special interests they support. It does so, however, without offending the constitutional mandate that lawmakers have purview over such rules. Hence it offers a counterpoint to the entrenched view that Congress cannot truly precommit itself through procedural rules. Furthermore, because this method of statutory interpretation is guided by Congress's own remedy to the problem of special interests, it differs in an important respect from prior scholarly proposals for narrow interpretation of special interest legislation, making it more resilient to the critique that the interpretive mode exceeds the judicial function.