Monday, October 13, 2008

Legal Reasoning

This article, entitled "Everything I Needed to Learn About Legisprudence I Learned by the Time I Was Nine," is the best illustration of legal reasoning that I've ever read. It's also the most hilarious. The article is only five pages (plus two lines) long. Whether you're a lawyer, an aspiring lawyer, or a hater of lawyers (or all three), by all means take a few minutes. Here's the abstract:
Based on a true story, this piece starts with a proclamation by Mother, the Supreme Lawmaker, that "no food may be eaten outside the kitchen." What follows is a series of rulings by Judges--father, babysitter, grandma (a liberal jurist, of course), etc.--who, using traditional tools of interpretation, eventually declare it to mean that all food may be eaten outside of the kitchen. Ultimately, the supreme lawmaker reacts and clarifies.

The piece is meant to demonstrate the following:

* We all regularly use the basic tools and modes of statutory interpretation;
* When we interpret pronouncements in real life, we resort to a mix of textualist, literalist, purposivist, legal process, precedent, and other techniques and sources;
* Although the various tools seem perfectly reasonable individually, in the aggregate, they can lead to ridiculous results;
* Even when we agree that the ultimate results are ridiculous, it is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly where the error occurred;
* The legislature can sometimes clean up after bad judicial opinions, but it often takes a long time.

Thanks to Orin Kerr at Volokh for pointing it out.

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