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A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law

A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law

Hardback University Center for Human Values

By (author) Antonin Scalia, Volume editor Amy Gutmann

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  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Format: Hardback | 128 pages
  • Dimensions: 162mm x 242mm x 20mm | 431g
  • Publication date: 25 February 1997
  • Publication City/Country: New Jersey
  • ISBN 10: 0691026300
  • ISBN 13: 9780691026305

Product description

In this essay, Judge Antonin Scalia argues that the common-law mindset, although approriate in its place, is not suitable for statutory and constitutional interpretation. In exploring the neglected art of statutory interpretation, he urges judges to resist the temptation to use legislative intention and legislative history. In his view, it is incompatible with democratic government to allow the meaning of a statute to be determined by what the judges think the lawyers meant, rather than by what the legislature actually promulgated. He argues that eschewing the judicial lawmaking that is the essence of common law, judges should interpret statutes and regulations by focusing on the text itself. Scalia proposes that the notion of an ever-changing Constitution is abandoned and that attention is paid to the Constitution's original meaning. Although not subscribing to the "strict constitutionalism" that would prevent applying the Constitution to modern circumstances, Scalia emphatically rejects the idea that judges can properly "smuggle" in new rights or deny old rights by using the Due Process Clause, for instance. In fact, such judicial discretion might lead to the destruction of the B

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Author information

Antonin Scalia has been an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court since 1986. Prior to that time, he served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Review quote

""A Matter of Interpretation" demonstrates both the attraction of Scalia's 'textualist' theory and his qualities as a judicial statesman. . . [His] elegant essay, the most concise and accessible presentation of his views, argues eloquently that judicial authority can only be based on the statutory or constitutional text."--Michael Greve, "Reason"

Editorial reviews

Supreme Court Justice Scalia posits his views of how statutes and the Constitution should be interpreted; a noted historian and three distinguished legal scholars respond. Scalia, whom journalistic shorthand often renders the intellectual leader of the Court's right wing, sets forth the principles of what he calls "textualism" and others call "original intent." To reduce a complex and subtle argument to a sentence, he believes that judges should discern a law's import from the words in which it is stated, not from divining the legislative intent behind its passage or interpreting the text through analysis of its historical context; he finds the application of common-law adjudicature to constitutional issues a threat to democracy. Apart from Mary Ann Glendon, who contributes a rather dry comparison of the techniques of statutory interpretation in European civil-law countries with those derived from our common-law traditions, the replies take exception to Scalia's method. Glendon's Harvard Law School colleague Laurence Tribe lauds Scalia's insistence on a close reading of statutory texts but contends that specific constitutional language must be studied "in light of the Constitution as a whole and the history of its interpretation"; he doubts that any set of "rules" for constitutional exegesis is possible. Ronald Dworkin, of New York University Law School, finds textualism inadequate for constitutional analysis because "key constitutional provisions, as a matter of their original meaning, set out abstract principles rather than concrete or dated rules." Brown University historian Gordon Wood disputes Scalia's contention that judges only recently began usurping authority from elected legislatures. Although all of the authors write clearly, it is unlikely that anyone not fairly well versed in constitutional law will fully grasp their arguments. A small but worthwhile addition to the literature. (Kirkus Reviews)