I’m in the middle of finals in my second-to-last semester of law school, and a couple of topics have come up in mind that I am interested in working out by way of discussion.
I would like to discuss judicial interpretation - focusing mainly on statutory law, but touching on the Constitution as well.
I’m not sure that I put this topic in the right forum - the Court is within the Beltway - but from the perspective I’m coming from, it’s not Politics either - and it’s not a Trivial Pursuit unless you’re staggeringly jaded.
The very specific and precise meaning of words is, in a sense, the whole of our legal system. When someone is put on trial for breaking the law, the meaning of each and every word of that law is relevant to that trial. Each element of the offense is defined in the statute - and in a very general way, every trial is essentially an argument between two lawyers as to what those words mean.
Now, the obvious answer is to use the plain meaning of the words to interpret the law. That sounds good, but presents it’s own problems.
Let’s say there’s a law that states “…all rackets, bats, lacrosse sticks and hockey sticks should be stored in the designated sports shed…”
Should we interpret that to include nocturnal flying mammals? Of course not, Congress couldn’t possibly have meant that when they wrote that statute. So what rules do we use to parse it? “Common sense” is the obvious answer, but we’re talking about the law here. Ambiguity is not a good thing.
So what do you use to determine what the law means? What’s the most important factor?
Is it the literal meaning of the words of the text?
Is it what Congress intended that specifc the law to mean?
Is it the purpose of the law a whole?
I read a SCOTUS decision from a few years ago, concerning the question “Is a fish a tangible object”, in the context of a particular statute.
I won’t get into the details (you can google “the fish case” to read all about it), but the Court ruled that the answer was No - a fish is not a tangible object. And I agree with their interpretation of that law.
I don’t know what else to say here, I just wanted to start an interesting discussion.