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Scalia and Garner's Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts Format Kindle
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Justice Scalia is well known, but Bryan Garner, the co-author and the editor of Black's Law Dictionary, is less so. They have collaborated on a prior book, The Art of Persuading Judges, which I liked, and I like this book even more. I don't think it is intended to be read cover-to-cover like the prior book, but as a condensation of the principles of constitutional and statutory interpretation, it is unrivaled. You could read cases for decades and not get as clear an understanding of how to interpret them as you would from thumbing through this book while attempting to interpret a particular statute.
The first 51 pages, which include the Introduction and Principles Applicable to All Texts fall into the category of exposition on theories of interpretation. It is humorous in places. For example, at one point the authors quote from a constitutional scholar who says "the language structure, and history of law serve best as mediums [sic.] of restraint rather than excuses for intrusion." The use of the Latin abbreviation "sic." for "sic erat scriptum" or "thus was it written" leads you to punchline contained in the footnote which says "unless the passage refers to clairvoyants, media is the proper term." I'm not sure if that is Scalia's or Garner's work on display, but I still found it funny.
In short, it is recommended for anyone who must interpret statutes. I consider it more a reference than an exposition, but one that save readers gobs of time when deciding what a statute does, or should mean.
Then I read yesterday's WSJ review on Justice Scalia's and Mr. Garner's book "Reading Law" (I wish Amazon would give reviewers a little more control in utilizing underlining or italics.) I bought a copy last night and have not been able to put it down.
This book is a goldmine for drafters of legal documents. The fundamental, semantic, syntactic, and contextual canons are not only fascinating to read, but are providing eminently practical drafting guidelines that have me intellectually hopping for joy. This book has already taken its place within handreach of my beloved Ninth Edition Black's Law Dictionary (thank you, Mr. Garner), my Chicago Manual of Style (thanks again for Mr. Garner's contributions), and my battered twenty-year-old Roget's Thesaurus.
I am only one-third through the book (underlining, underlining, underlining), but I cannot help going back to some of my documents this afternoon and improving them in specific detail based solely on what I have read so far in this wonderful book. I am looking forward to reading the book over dinners, breakfasts, and lunches in the next few days.
Just the section titled "Principals Applicable to All Texts" should make this book required reading for a host of people: law students in their writing courses, legistators, attorneys in legislative offices overseeing the drafting of statutes, judges, and just plain old transactional attorneys like me who eschew boilerplate forms and instead want to draft their own careful documents benefitting their clients.
Thank you to the authors for this interesting and deeply practical book. I am not sure Justice Scalia and Mr. Garner intended (!) the book to be a manual for drafters of legal documents, but it has already become an indispensable drafing manual for me.
But Reading Law is not just for attorneys. Every American should read this book, in part to create accountability among judges at every level of government. Every American should know how judges should interpret the vast array of statutes and regulations now so deeply embedded in the fabric of American life. Judges should read it, obviously. So should legislators, many of whom are legal laymen needing better understanding of how their legislation should be read and it should fit within the template of federal and state constitutions. Yet, ordinary Americans, those whose lives and livelihoods are later judged against legislative standards may need this book even more, to anticipate how they will be judged and, later, to comprehend why.
I think my colleagues who dislike Scalia don't like his manner - his aloof, imperious, wheezy, almighty law-professor aura. We all remember that from law school and we detest it. Right? The real criticism isn't his devotion to textualism, it's our natural dislike for inflexible, close-minded people. Scalia is certainly that. (God help me if I ever appear before him...).
But the book is compelling. The Canons of statutory interpretation section is very useful, and very handy for legal subjects where statutes are bandied about constantly, and at every level (as they are with immigration law, for example). This section is where Garner's hand is most discernible, discussions of English usage are clear, bright, and rich with possibilities. And Garner's writing is a pleasure to read: as smooth and rich as oil. This is what you buy the book for.
Scalia is most prominent in the very lengthy introduction, with it's dogmatic insistence on textualist sensibilities. It's almost offensive. We feel almost as though we're being scolded from the bench, yes? Scalia is really answering his critics here much more than he is trying to enlighten the reader.
I'd be willing to bet that Garner strongly advised a heavy edit in the introduction, maybe to half the length, but was unsuccessful. And Scalia doesn't really write all that well either... it's not an elegant style. Reading Scalia is like trying to land a golf ball on a boulder-strewn fairway: uncomfortable, and downright trying at times. Many lawyers and judges find the "content" of his opinion (and other) writing objectionable, but I feel it'd be much easier to swallow if the "form" of the writing weren't so ponderous, and almost oppressive at times...
But the Canons of Construction section will stand you in good stead when you're writing briefs and memos. Buy the book, read half the introduction, then read the Canons section. Keep it close at hand when you're writing. It's good background, good fortification for serious, scholarly attorneys. (People Magazine will suffice for the rest of you...)
The book probably would have been better if Garner had written it alone, but it's still very much worth having. Even Scalia haters will like the book (c'mon, huh? The guy is from Trenton, after all...).
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