“Statutory Interpretation from the Inside – An Empirical Study of Congressional Drafting, Delegation and the Canons: Part II”

Abbe Gluck and Lisa Schultz Bressman have posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming, Stanford Law Review).  This moves to the top of my statutory interpretation reading pile. Here is the abstract:

This is the second of two Articles relaying the results of the most extensive survey to date of 137 congressional drafters about the doctrines of statutory interpretation and administrative delegation. The first Article focused on our respondents’ knowledge and use of the interpretive principles that courts apply. This second Article moves away from the judicial perspective. Our findings here highlight the overlooked legislative underbelly: the personnel, structural and process-related factors that, our respondents repeatedly volunteered, drive the details of the drafting process more than do judicial rules of interpretation. These factors range from the fragmentation caused by the committee system; to the centrality of nonpartisan professional staff in the drafting of statutory text; to the use of increasingly unorthodox legislative procedures – each of which, our respondents told us, affects statutory consistency and use of legislative history in different and important ways. Our respondents also painted a picture of legislative staffers in a primary interpretive conversation with agencies, not with courts, and as using different kinds of signals for their communications with agencies than courts consider.

Most of the structural, personnel and process-related influences that our respondents emphasized have not been recognized by courts or scholars, but understanding them calls into question almost every presumption of statutory interpretation in current deployment. These findings have significance for textualism, purposivism and beyond. They undermine the claims of proponents of each theory that theirs is the most democracy-enhancing, because none makes satisfactory efforts to really reflect congressional expectations. Our findings challenge textualism’s operating assumption that text is the best evidence of the legislative bargain and suggest more relevant – but still-formalist – structural features that might do better. They reveal that although purposivists or eclectic theorists may have the right idea with a more contextual approach, many of factors on which they focus are not the same ones that Congress utilizes. With respect to delegation, for both types of theorists, Chevron now seems too text- and court-centric, in the light of our findings, to actually capture congressional intent to delegate, which has been its asserted purpose.

In the end, our findings raise the question whether the kind of “faithful agent” approach to interpretation that most judges currently employ – one aimed effectuating legislative deals and often focused on granular textual details – can ever be successful. We thus look to different paradigms less dependent on how Congress works, including rule-of-law and pragmatic approaches to interpretation. These alternatives respond to the problem of the sausage factory, but pose different challenges in light of the modern judicial sensibility’s pronounced concern with legislative supremacy.

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