Judging Statutes

By Robert A Katzmann
In an ideal world, the laws of Congress-known as federal statutes- would always be clearly worded and easily understood by the judges tasked with interpreting them. But many laws feature ambiguous or even contradictory wording. How, then, should judges divine their meaning? Should they stick only to the text? To what degree, if any, should they consult aids beyond the statutes themselves? Are the purposes of lawmakers in writing law relevant? Some judges, such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, believe courts should look to the language of the statute and virtually nothing else. Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit respectfully disagrees. In Judging Statutes, Katzmann, who is a trained political scientist as well as a judge, argues that our constitutional system charges Congress with enacting laws; therefore, how Congress makes its purposes known through both the laws themselves and reliable accompanying materials should be respected. He looks at how the American government works, including how laws come to be and how various agencies construe legislation. He then explains the judicial process of interpreting and applying these laws through the demonstration of two interpretative approaches, purposivism (focusing on the purpose of a law) and textualism (focusing solely on the text of the written law). Katzmann draws from his experience to show how this process plays out in the real world, and concludes with some suggestions to promote understanding between the courts and Congress. When courts interpret the laws of Congress, they should be mindful of how Congress actually functions, how lawmakers signal the meaning of statutes, and what those legislators expect of courts construing their laws. The legislative record behind a law is in truth part of its foundation, and therefore merits consideration.

"Robert Katzmann has written an illuminating and convincing book about the importance of ascertaining the actual intent of the legislators who draft and enact our statutes. It should be required reading for all lawyers confronting questions of statutory construction when advising clients or arguing such issues before judges." -Justice John Paul Stevens (Ret.)

"Judge Katzmann is a dedicated public servant and a highly regarded judge. This compelling book is a welcome addition to the increasingly urgent conversation about how courts interpret what we do as members of Congress." -Senator Charles E. Schumer

"Beautifully crafted, sensitive to the contrasting workways of Congress, executive agencies, and courts, and wise in its conclusions on this contested arena of judging, this book will quickly become the essential primer for judges, legislators, and citizens who aspire to more effective government. Katzmann, the first and only political scientist appointed to the federal bench, draws on his extraordinary knowledge and experience as a judge, scholar, law professor and interlocutor between the branches to produce this splendid brief treatise on statutory interpretation." -Thomas E. Mann, W. Averell Harriman Chair & Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

"The most erudite book any American judge has ever published on statutory interpretation, combining common sense with masterful scholarship. Katzmann relentlessly insists that judges approach statutes with an appreciation of Congress's primacy and with an understanding of the utility of legislative history. He does for statutory interpretation what John Marshall did for constitutional interpretation." -William Eskridge, Jr., John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence, Yale Law School

"Judging Statutes will profoundly influence the study and practice of statutory interpretation, combining sophisticated theoretical analysis with real-world experience. This book demonstrates the importance of an institutional perspective; interpretation includes Congress, courts, and agencies, as each engages with the statute and other branches." -Elizabeth Garrett, Duggan Professor of Law, Political Science, Finance and Business Economics, and Public Policy, University of Southern California

"A judicial craftsman at the top of his art, Katzmann has written a must-read for all involved in the legislative and interpretive process." -Viet Dinh, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center

"Katzmann makes a powerful case that judges should pay attention to legislative history--the words of members of Congress in debates, the committee reports explaining laws, and all of the source material that reflects how Congress really works. Moreover, Katzmann makes the apt point that textualism is especially inappropriate for judges who, like Scalia, profess to believe in judicial restraint-in the idea, that is, that judges should defer to the elected branches of government." --Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker

"Judging Statutes, is both a tour de force and must reading for anybody following a particularly critical case, Halbig v. Burwell." --Norm Ornstein, National Journal


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About the Hardcover

Publisher Oxford University Press, USA
Publish date 09/11/2014
Pages 184
ISBN-13 9780199362134
ISBN-10 0199362130
Language English