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Spring 2023 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 ereilly@law.harvard.edu. Application deadline is January 23, 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 assigned cases each week. They will also be asked to read one or two articles each week and to submit two questions on the article(s) selected for the week. The two questions together may not exceed 250 words total.

Note: This reading group is scheduled to meet on the following dates: March 21, March 28, April 4, April 11, and April 18. On April 18, there will be an additional session held during dinnertime from 6pm to 8pm.