Critics of the D.C. Circuit’s panel decision in Halbig v. Burwell are condemning the decision for its wooden interpretation of the Affordable Care Act. This got me to wondering how and when that phrase entered the lexicon.
The first reference I can find in the United States comes from the Indiana Supreme Court in 1906. State v. Lowry stated that courts should “avoid a wooden interpretation of the words and become able to apprehend the spirit of the statute.” Perhaps there was some earlier British usage (the phrase certainly sounds British), but I don’t know.
This raises a related point that has always puzzled me. Lawyers of a certain age like to say when giving credit to someone that they took “the laboring oar” on a case or a project. I had never heard anyway say this until I went into practice, and I haven’t heard it since I left practice. Where does that one come from?