restrained interpretation; purposive interpretation--->activist interpretation. But I'm learning that..." />

Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Purposive interpretation *as* judicial restraint: The Legal Process School as the end of a long era

Most people today tend to associate purposive interpretation--of statutes, say, but it could be of anything--with "judicial activism" and therefore an absence of judicial restraint. The alignments seem to be: textualist interpretation--->restrained interpretation; purposive interpretation--->activist interpretation.

But I'm learning that it was the view of some legal process theorists (Bickel, Wellington, Jaffe, maybe Fuller) that purposive interpretation promoted and was in the service of judicial restraint. As Neil Duxbury puts it in his article on the Legal Process school (Faith in Reason: The Process Tradition in American Jurisprudence): "As with the articulation of reasons, they [legal process theorists] argued, the purposive interpretation of statutes fosters judicial restraint. For such interpretation allows not the imposition of any old purpose onto a statute, but only 'a purpose which may reasonably be imputed to those who uttered the words.' [citation here to a 1957 piece by Bickel and Wellington]....Judicial discretion in the interpretation of statutes, [Jaffe] argued, should be exercised...where the Court is uncertain of the clear purpose of the statute."

In fact, one can see the view that purposive interpretation is an appropriate judicial function in constitutional adjudication of the 18th and 19th century quite regularly. But I was surprised to see it as still so fully embraced by the Process theorists. As sifting out, through reasoned elaboration, the principles the lawmaker intended for the law. And yet, this way of thinking is so different from the way many think about judicial restraint today. Something like the opposite way.

DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink