Legislation and Statutory Interpretation

Elizabeth Garrett

in The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199208425
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Political Science

Legislation and Statutory Interpretation


Much of the theoretical work done at the intersection of law and politics demands empirical underpinnings. Scholarship working to discern the signals sent by legislators in order to interpret unclear language consistently with the message that was sent by the enactors requires a sophisticated understanding of the legislative process—both generally and specifically as it pertains to that legislation. The study of statutory interpretation moved to the forefront of scholarly attention in the 1980s in large part because legal scholars began to use insights and methodologies from political science—most fruitfully, from public choice and other positive theories of politics. This article examines the interaction of positive theories of politics with the foundational theories of statutory interpretation, namely, intentionalism and purposivism. It discusses how political science has been used to challenge these theories and how it has sometimes provided a more nuanced and convincing version of interpretive techniques. The article also considers courts as interpreters and the institutional relationship between Congress and the judiciary.

Keywords: Congress; judiciary; legislation; law; politics; political science; statutory interpretation; intentionalism; purposivism; courts

Article.  8082 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Politics and Law

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