Legislative History and Statutory Interpretation
posted by Gerard Magliocca
I want to draw your attention to an terrific new article by Victoria Nourse about how to read federal statutes. Her argument is elegant and practical: Courts should construe statutes in light of congressional rules and norms. Why? Because they form the expectations that frame any ambiguous text.
Nourse gives five principal examples of congressional rules that should influence judges when they are engaged with a law (and uses cases to show how courts either get these rules right or wrong). They are:
1. Never read legislative history without knowing Congress’s own rules.
2. Later textual decisions trump earlier ones.
3. The best legislative history is not identified by type, but by specificity to the interpretive question and proximity to the textual decision.
4. Never cite legislative history without knowing who won and who lost the textual debate.
5. Congress’s rules may create ambiguity for courts but not for Congress.
Anyway, take a look. It’s well worth your time.