Does Statutory Interpretation Matter?

In a discussion regarding my previous post on Halbig, Eric Segall tweeted the following:

[W]e have . . . known since the realists of the 30’s that Stat[utory] Inter[pretation] Principles don’t decide cases.

And of course he’s right. Even Justice Scalia concedes that canons of construction or generic neutral principles can’t be applied in a mechanical manner. But that doesn’t mean that principles of statutory interpretation don’t matter at all. Continue reading

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Halbig, Statutory Interpretation, and Lessons I Learned in Practice

Reading all the interweb debates in the wake of Halbig and King, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated. People seem to be talking past each other—perhaps for the reasons Will Baude outlines here. Arguments about statutory text are rebutted with arguments about congressional intent, which is often gleaned from press coverage during the ACA’s legislative debates.

But I think it cuts deeper than that. The nature of the post-Halbig debate feeds into the core stereotypes and motive-impugning assumptions that legal conservatives and liberals have about each other. Conservatives willingly play the role of hyper-technical textual literalists with simple-sounding (and superficially appealing!) arguments tailor-made for Twitter: “state” means “state”; it doesn’t mean “federal.”[1] Liberals, on the other hand, ease naturally into the opposite stereotype, countering this plain-language reading of the statute with arguments that could be caricatured as: “I was reading The New York Times daily coverage of the ACA debates and they didn’t mention any of this, so it can’t be what Congress actually meant.”[2]

I’ve come away with two observations, both of them focused on the liberal side of the argument. The first is that we liberals should listen to my former boss Susan Brune. The second is that if we want to preach to anyone other than the converted, we need to focus on the ethos of our rhetoric in the arena of statutory interpretation.[3] Continue reading