Pulling the rug out from under debates about interpretation, The Language of Statutes joins together learning from law, linguistics, and cognitive science to illuminate the fundamental issues and problems in this highly contested area. Here, Lawrence M. Solan argues that statutory interpretation is alive, well, and not in need of the major overhaul that many have suggested. Rather, he suggests, the majority of people understand their rights and obligations most of the time, with difficult cases occurring in circumstances that we can predict from understanding when our minds do not work in a lawlike way.
We are capable of writing crisp yet flexible laws, but Solan explains that difficult cases result when the ways in which our cognitive and linguistic faculties are structured fail to produce a single, clear interpretation. Though we are predisposed to absorb new situations into categories we have previously formed, our conceptualization is not always as crisp as the legislative and judicial realms demand. In such cases, Solan contends that other values, most importantly legislative intent, must come into play. The Language of Statutes provides an excellent introduction to statutory interpretation, rejecting the extreme arguments that judges have either too much or too little leeway, and explaining how and why a certain number of interpretive problems are simply inevitable.
Lawrence M. Solan is Don Forchelli Professor of Law and director of the Center for the Study of Law, Language, and Cognition at Brooklyn Law School. He is the author of The Language of Judges and coauthor of Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice, both of which are also published by the University of Chicago Press.