Murphy, Old Maxims Never Die: The "Plain-Meaning Rule
(187) First, the court established that it was using the plain-meaning rule under federal precedent.
Like the other cases, the court first laid out the plain-meaning rule. (203) But then, without examining the text of the statute, (204) the court looked to legislative history and federal and state case law interpreting the statute, determining that they "provide little guidance on how to interpret the act." (205) Only after exhausting these methods did the court return to the text of the statute, saying that it is "concededly open-ended." (206) Finally, the court turned to the statute's preamble and based its holding on the express purpose of the statute.
Thus, the plain-meaning rule
states that where the law speaks in clear and categorical language, there is no room for interpretation.
(6) This objective approach, which is broadly referred to in the United States as textualism, is based on the plain-meaning rule
. Textualism has evolved over time from the traditional approach (commonly referred to as old textualism), which relies on a soft plain-meaning rule
, to the more recent new textualism, which relies on a hard plain-meaning rule
Looking It Up] (identifying the plain-meaning rule as one of the
Court's devotion to the plain-meaning rule and accepting that
court has explicitly rejected the so-called plain-meaning rule.
The court then announced that it would no longer follow the dictates of the plain-meaning rule, which it said was fraught with flaws and inconsistencies, in determining the meaning of statutes.
But history may have something to say about what is plain, and here history is not silent." (122) To similar effect is the argument that the plain-meaning rule
is "rather an axiom of experience than a rule of law, and does not preclude consideration of persuasive evidence if it exists." (123) In fact, it is one of the surest indexes of a mature and developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress out of the dictionary; but to remember that statutes always have some purpose or object to accomplish, whose sympathetic and imaginative discovery is the surest guide to their meaning.
Important as I think it is, I must admit that not all appellate judges subscribe to the plain-meaning rule. Some judges appear to think that language has no fixed meaning, and that the meaning of any word or phrase in a statute can never be ascertained without considering both its context and the history of the legislation in which it appears.
Here's what I mean by that: When appellate courts apply the plain-meaning rule to construe a statute by using language in the way in which it is used in everyday speech, they are primarily doing two things.