3 Types of Ambiguity:
Semantic Ambiguity- the ambiguity resided within the meaning of the word itself; this was not subject to “discovery” by analysis.
Syntactical Ambiguity- ambiguity based on the structure of the statute “No Tax on charitable corps or institutions performing educational functions.”
Contextual Ambiguity- when reading the whole statute, the intent of the context is not clear based on some inconsistencies. Making some exceptions in statute “no lecturers” are allowed”. Does this include ministers or teachers that both often “lecture”?
– the plain meaning of the statute should be applied unless it leads to an absurd result
– interpreter follows the “plain meaning” of the statute’s text
How to find the plain meaning:
– rules of grammer
– structure of sentence/paragraph
– in the statute, where the legislature has provided definitions
(trumps the dictionary definition)
– Intentionalists attempt to discover the original intent of the drafters of the legislation. They often went outside the statute to find clues to what they meant by those words. They did not place the focus on the literal wording of the statute.
– “Plain meaning Rule” did not take into consideration that words could have more than one meaning. Intentionalists felt the diseases of language (vagueness, ambiguity) made “plain meaning” virtually impossible.
1) start with the text
(was there a specific definition assigned to the word)
2) look at extrinsic materials
Three tasks to find intent:
a) specific intent
Intentionalists look for the “specific intent”- something directly tied to legislative intent regarding the issue the Intentionalists are looking to resolve.
· Legislative History – sometimes within statute, they are found within the “definitional section”
· Direction of court to interpret something as narrow or broad.
· Other sections of statute- may use same word or phrase someplace else and that may provide a good idea of the original intended meaning.
· Legislature’s “reaction” to existing laws of that day.
· Legislature’s Historical direction of legislation in the time statute was drafted.
b) imaginative reconstruction
how would the drafters have interpreted the statute back then. Know what they knew at that time and only what they knew, reconstruct their reasoning process
c) spurious interpretation
court applies own values and attitudes to determine the intent. Last resort option, it is not interpretation at all. The court says this is what the law is now; impose interpretation that is not included in the intent. Apply so that there is a fair and just r
ough logical reasoning)
3.) Pick an interpretation that best effectuates the purpose
a) look at the result of each interpretation
– enforce the statute and the results
– do the results effectuate the statute
– does not conflict with existing law
– GO WITH THE ONE THAT SEEMS FAIR BECAUSE LAW IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE SENSE IN ITS APPLICATION IN SOCIETY
— the interpretation must not give the words:
– a meaning they will not bear
– a meaning which would violate any established policy of a clear statement
Critiques of Purpose Approach
Provides flexibility permitting courts to change meaning of statute which is not apparent on the surface of the textà”dishonest” à more like Judicial Lawmaking, thus, illegal.
There could be multiple purposes (that conflict)
Provides judge a forum for applying their own opinion in place of facts.
To avoid the risk of Judicial Lawmaking, rely more on words of legislature more than the discernable “intent” or “purpose” since the text (“words”) of the statute are LAW. The text of the statute is what makes the law, not the “purpose”