A matter of interpretation : federal courts and the law : an essay /

Main Author: Scalia, Antonin.
Other Authors: Gutmann, Amy.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1997.
Series: The University Center for Human Values series
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Review by Choice Review

Scalia offers lawyers and "all thoughtful Americans who share our national obsession with the law" the text of his lecture "Common-Law Courts in a Civil-Law System: The Role of United States Federal Courts in Interpreting the Constitution and Laws." His views, well known to students of the Supreme Court, are briefly if not always succinctly outlined under familiar rubrics: judge-made law, statutory interpretation, textualism or "reasonable construction," and a tirade against "The Living Constitution." Textualism--adherence to the letter and if possible the meaning of statutes and a rejection of the US Constitution as a flexible, growing charter of republican liberty--constitute the core of Scalia's remarks. His textualist brief against the Living Constitution builds around the requirement that "democracy" be the obligatory goal and procedure of faithful interpreters of the Constitution (although "democracy" is a term foreign to the Constitution or any of its amendments.) Four commentators contest Scalia's views with indifferent success, mainly because their views are not fully engaged or are met with "I do not agree," "I do not believe that," and "I disagree," judicial closures that do not aid the understanding of those who share "our national obsession with the law." Recommended for readers interested in how a Justice works and how some lawyers try to cope. L. Weinstein; Smith College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

How should judges interpret statutory and constitutional law? Gutmann (politics, Princeton; Democracy and Disagreement, LJ 12/15/96) has edited an admirable work focusing on the relationship of the federal courts in interpreting the law. Supreme Court Justice Scalia's essay elaborates on his philosophy of textualism, an approach that eschews legislative intention in favor of focusing on the original meaning of the text to be interpreted. He applies this principle to constitutional law, arguing that we should concentrate on the Constitution's original meaning. Following this essay are brief comments by noted legal scholars Ronald Dworkin, Mary Ann Glendon, Lawrence Tribe, and Gordon Wood. It's deceptively easy to simplify Justice Scalia's ideas to a single sentence, as Gutmann does in her preface: "laws mean what they actually say, not what legislators intended them to say but did not write into the law's text." But the debates over the manner of interpreting legal texts have been held since the very beginning of our constitutional government. This collection certainly isn't the final word, but it offers an excellent starting place. For academic collections.‘Jerry E. Stephens, U.S. Court of Appeals Lib., Oklahoma City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

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.

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