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Spring 2024 Reading Group

Statutory Interpretation in a Constitutional Democracy

Prerequisite: Instructor permission is required for enrollment. Applicants should send a resume and statement of interest (with reference to prior coursework and experience related to statutory interpretation) to Emma Reilly at Application deadline is November 29, 2023.

Exam Type: No Exam

This reading group will consider statutory interpretation in light of the proper roles of the three branches in American constitutional democracy. The group will cast particular focus on questions about the proper role of the federal judiciary in interpreting and applying statutes. Should the federal courts strive to decode the most accurate reading of statutory texts, acting as Congress’s faithful agents in the work they do? Or should federal courts, as principals of a co-equal branch, take responsibility for making statutory programs work sensibly and effectively, acting as Congress’s partners in the enterprise of governance? How, if at all, do our answers change when Congress has given federal agencies primary responsibility for carrying out the programmatic aims of federal statutes? Finally, what metric does one use answer the foregoing question? Do our answers come from the text and structure of the U.S. Constitution, from the accretion of constitutional practice, from a political theory of how best to make a constitutional democracy serve the broad goals of public welfare, or from some other source? This Reading Group will rely on a mix of cases and scholarly articles to explore those issues.

Members of the Reading Group will be responsible for reading all of the cases listed for a given week. They will also be asked to read one of the listed articles each week (linked in the syllabus to HeinOnline) and to submit one question on the article they have selected for that week. The question may not exceed 150 words total and should be uploaded to Canvas no later than 5:00 p.m. on the day before that week’s session. (Though you may pick either article on a given week, we suggest that you select the one you think you are less likely to agree with ex ante.)

Note: This reading group is scheduled to meet on the following dates: 1/23, 1/30, 2/6, 2/13, and 2/20. On February 20, there will be an additional session held during dinnertime from 6pm to 8pm.