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Philip Frickey, constitutional interpretation, statutory interpretation


This Essay seeks to honor Phil by exploring the contributions of his Legal Process approach to a problem near and dear to his heart: the uses and legitimacy of canons of statutory construction. I focus, as Phil did in his most recent work, on the canon of constitutional avoidance—that is, the rule that courts should construe statutes to avoid significant ―doubt as to their constitutionality.

This Essay largely supports Phil‘s defense of the avoidance canon, but links that defense to another set of canons that Phil has criticized: the various clear statement rules of statutory construction that Phil and Bill Eskridge memorably labeled ―quasi-constitutional law. These rules require that Congress make its intent especially clear when it legislates in areas of particular constitutional sensitivity—for example, by intruding on the prerogatives of the states.

This Essay proceeds in three parts. Part I develops two problems in statutory construction—the canon of constitutional avoidance and judge-made clear statement rules—by reference to some major cases decided in the Supreme Court‘s 2008 Term. Part II elaborates the Legal Process School‘s approach to these sorts of problems of canonical construction, with particular emphasis on Professor Frickey‘s work in this vein. Part III then develops the central Legal Process insight that rules of construction are part of constitutional interpretation as a means of interpreting and protecting the broader structural aspects of the Constitution, namely, federalism and separation of powers.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Constitutional law, Law--Interpretation and construction, Philip Frickey