This three-credit course, taught by a U.S. District Judge (and 1990 Georgetown University Law Center alumnus), provides instruction and in-class exercises in statutory interpretation, with emphasis in three areas:
- practice (how it is done by courts, and by lawyers who advocate in court);
- theory (how those practices are explained, both descriptively and normatively); and
- doctrine (the textual and substantive canons of statutory construction).
Offered for several years at Boston law schools by the judge, the course is designed to be both intellectually engaging and highly practical.
While much of the first year law school curriculum focuses on “common law reasoning” (identifying applicable judicial precedent and, if necessary, distinguishing the case at hand), most of modern law practice involves applying statutory law produced by the Congress and state legislatures, as well as administrative law in the form of rules and regulations. “Thinking like a lawyer” involves mastering the practices and doctrines of statutory interpretation.
This course covers those practices, the doctrines that govern them, and the theories that (purportedly) explain or justify them: purposivism, intentionalism, textualism, and pragmatism in its various forms.
You’ll learn some substantive law, but the class won’t focus on it. Instead you’ll encounter text, figure out the interpretive problems the text presents, and learn how courts, advocates and academics have approached those problems.
The course has three overall goals:
- Enabling you to recognize the “moves” undertaken by courts and advocates in interpreting statutes and regulations, and to make and oppose the arguments underlying those moves.
- Mastering a reasonable number of canons of statutory construction (both textual and substantive), as well as other related tools such as “ordinary” and “plain” meaning, legislative intent, statutory purpose, and deference to administrative agencies.
- Exposing you to the theoretical debates that inform and animate statutory interpretation. A judge’s theoretical understanding of statutory interpretation may affect the judge’s decision making and opinion writing (which are two different things) in statutory cases. This may help you form your own theoretical position on statutory interpretation, which may in turn inform your view of the origin, nature and functions of law.