The One-Congress Fiction in Statutory Interpretation

William W. Buzbee
2000 University of Pennsylvania law review  
Reliance on fictions and simplifying assumptions in the interpretation of statutes may be inevitable, but should courts look across statutes or regulatory fields and draw inferences from linguistic choices in dfferent statutes? Injustifying such statutory comparisons and their interpretive conclusions, judges often state or imply that these linguistic comparisons reveal that Congress knows how to express itself in a more authoritative way, even where statutes were enacted by different sessions
more » ... f Congress, arose out of different contexts, and concerned different subjects. This interpretive move is referred to in this Article as "the one-Congress fiction." Examination of this technique in Supreme Court jurisprudence reveals significant problems with its application, logic, and theoretical underpinnings. Furthermore, this Article's critique raises larger questions about the normative claims underpinning this and other textualist modes of statutory interpretation, particularly claims that textualism enhances the quality of legislation, reduces opportunities for ends-oriented judicial decisionmaking, and deters undemocratic manipulation of the legislative process. Central to the error of the one-Congress fiction is its implicit assumption that Congress, in legislating, is in a conversation only with itself In reality, and as well developed in empirical and theoretical critiques of political process, the process of law enactment, implementation, and interpretation inevitably changes the implications of particular language in unpredictable ways. Far from being the product of a closed system memorialized only in the United States Code, legislation arises out of a dynamic process involving many actors. The Article concludes that a more context-sensitive method of interpretat Professor of Law, Emory Law School. J.D. Columbia Law School; BA. Amherst College.
doi:10.2307/3312848 fatcat:m5ru3ctu2raavbrxru56qhaiei