Statutory Interpretation in Illinois: Abandoning the Plain Meaning Rule for an Extratextual Approach
Matthew J. Hertko | 2005 U. Ill. L. Rev. 377
The plain meaning rule and the extratextual approach are two distinct methods of statutory interpretation. The plain meaning rule, currently used in Illinois, permits consultation of extratextual sources only after a court has determined that the statutory language in question is ambiguous. The rule attempts to prevent judicial lawmaking by limiting discretion. However, the author argues that the plain meaning rule is ineffective because it is “deliberately uninformed” and may lead to result-oriented decisions as a consequence. Also, the line drawing inherent in determining whether a statue is ambiguous invests judges with the kind of broad discretion that the plain meaning rule was designed to avoid in the first place.
The extratextual approach allows a court to interpret a statute in light of its history and purposes without first finding it to be ambiguous. The author argues that a modified form of this approach should be adopted in Illinois. Although interpretive tools like legislative history and the canons of construction are subject to criticism, this should not preclude their use. Courts should merely be aware of their shortcomings and proceed with the appropriate level of caution.
An original examination of the recently interpreted Illinois Ticket Scalping Act demonstrates how the different modes of statutory interpretation can produce contradictory results. Even within the constrictive bounds of the plain meaning rule, opposite results may issue depending on whether a court decides that the statutory text is ambiguous. Both the plain meaning and extratextual methods of statutory interpretation are assailable on the grounds that they permit courts too much discretion. Ultimately though, a limited version of the latter approach is preferable because it allows courts to make a more informed decision after exhausting all of the interpretive tools at their disposal.