Contemporary Meaning and Expectations in Statutory Interpretation

This Article introduces and explores an approach to, or theme within, statutory interpretation, one grounded in contemporary meaning and expectations. This approach posits that judges interpreting ambiguous statutes are and should be constrained by the understanding and expectations of the contemporary public as to the law’s meaning and application. These are developed in response to, and mediated by, the actions and statements of government officials and the broader community. The Article argues that this apparently radical approach is necessary for law to maintain its moral force, and further, that the principles underlying it are embedded in several doctrines and modalities of statutory interpretation. Further, the approach serves judicially conservative ends: promoting accessibility of the law to those governed by it, supporting social and legal stability and predictability, privileging organic and incremental change over radical breach, encouraging judicial minimalism and legislative maximalism, and fostering equality.

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