22 May 2006

More Than Plain Meaning.

The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 was poorly written. It said that a particular filing must be made "not less than 7 days", after a specific point in an appeal, but meant "not more than 7 days" after that point. The Courts, correctly interpreting Congressional intent, held that in this case, less meant more. Some idiot of the capital simply drafted it wrong and it was clearly apparent that this was the case.

Dissenters were appalled, the courts were interpreting the statute to mean the opposite of what its plain language said. The majority's answer is worth saving for future reference:

The dissent does not even acknowledge the primary purpose of statutory interpretation -- to ascertain and effecuate the intent of Congress -- other than to scoff at it. Dissent at 5590 ("If Congress intended something different, let Congress fix it.") The dissent would woodenly apply the plain meaning rule to the exclusion of all other rules of statutory interpretation. But the dissent's unduly narrow view of the office of statutory interpretation comports with neither the teaching of the Supreme Court nor the law of our Circuit.

Our problem in this country is not activist judges, but small minded ones like Judge Bybee, who drafted the dissent in this case, who lose sight of the forest for the trees. As a professor, I always extorted my students to look at their final result before turning it in to me and ask, at a big picture level, if it made any sense. Judges need to do the same.

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