Reading Law: An Indispensable Treatise


In 2012, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and legal writing expert, Bryan Garner, published Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. According to its authors, the purpose of the book is two fold: (1) to promote a judicial philosophy that finds the content of the law in the text of the Constitution, statutes, and contracts rather than the judge’s conclusions regarding what the authors of the text intended, or should have intended; and (2) to illuminate the governing principles (canons) that guide the interpretations of legal texts.

The book’s vigorous defense of textualism has predictably drawn the most attention and criticism. But it is Scalia and Garner’s lucid explanation of 57 separate canons of textual interpretation that is likely to prove most influential in the long run. Each canon is addressed in a mini essay of around a half-dozen pages with numerous examples of how the canon has been applied or misapplied by courts.

This user-friendly tome provides precisely the kind of tool that busy courts can use to resolve difficult questions of statutory construction. And they have been quick to use it. A Westlaw search reveals that courts have cited Reading Law over 60 times in the year since its publication. All indications are that this is going to be one of the most influential legal treatises ever written. Regardless of one’s position with regard to the rigorous textualism advocated by the authors, appellate practitioners cannot afford to be without a copy.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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