Hassan Shaikh

Document Type

Supreme Court Commentaries

Publication Date



Statutory Interpretation, Plain Meaning, Rule of Lenity

Subject Category

Constitutional Law | Supreme Court of the United States


In Lockhart v. United States, the Supreme Court resolved a long-standing circuit split regarding 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2), which triggered a mandatory minimum sentence for recidivists who had previously been convicted under federal or state crimes relating to “aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.” In expected fashion, the Court relied on the statute’s plain meaning to decide whether Lockhart’s previous crime had triggered the mandatory minimum. However, even with identical approaches to the text, the majority and dissent reached contrary conclusions. This commentary explores how a single approach could result in dueling interpretations, and whether judicial activism hides behind both opinions.