This is an extract of our Legislation Regulation Administrative Law Full Course Outline document, which we sell as part of our Administrative law: Legislation and Regulation Outlines collection written by the top tier of Harvard Law School students.
The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Administrative law: Legislation and Regulation Outlines. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:
*NB: this outline accords with Brewer et al., Administrative Law and Regulatory Policy (8th ed.)
Smith v United States (1993)
1. Rule of Law a. When interpreting a statute, a court may determine the text's ordinary meaning by reference to dictionary definitions.
2. Facts a. Petitioner: John Angus Smith b. Defendant: USG
c. P and companion went from Tennessee to Florida to buy cocaine, hoping to resell it at a profit. P and companion met P's acquaintance, Deborah Hoag. Hoag purchased cocaine for P. P, companion, and Hoag met drug dealer in motel room, where P expressed that he wants to sell his gun. Hoag informs police, who send undercover to pose as pawnbroker. Policeman attempted to buy the gun,
but P said P wants cocaine is exchange for the gun. Police left, saying he would return with drugs. P was then observed leaving the hotel room with the gun, and police give chase and arrest P.
d. P is charged with, among other offenses, two drug trafficking crimes. P is convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1), which prohibits "knowingly using a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime."
e. P argues that exchanging firearm for drugs does not constitute use, since the firearm was not used as a weapon, which is how firearms are most often used.
f. Statute does not define the word "use."
3. Procedural History a. Jury convicted petitioner on all counts. Court of Appeals affirmed.
4. Legal Question a. Whether trading a firearm for drugs and constitute "use" of the firearm within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1).
5. Holding and Reasoning: O'Connor (Blackmun concurring)
a. Yes, because a word undefined by statute is normally construed in accord with its natural meaning; and language must be interpreted in the context, which includes the rest of the statute, and one narrow interpretation does not exclude others; and the rule of lenity does not apply because the possibility of a narrow reading does not render the word ambiguous.
b. Argument for:
i. When a word is not defined by statute, we normally construe it in accord with ordinary or natural meaning.
1. Webster's Dictionary: use is to convert to one's service, to employ
2. By attempting to trade his MAC-10 for the drugs, he "used" or
"employed" it as an item of barter to obtain cocaine; he "derived service" from it because it was going to bring him the very drugs he sought.
ii. P claims statute should require proof that P used firearm "as a weapon,"
but the words "as a weapon" appear nowhere in the statute. Congress could have included such language if it so wished.
iii. Language must be interpreted within context.
1. P argues that "use" must be interpreted within context of
"firearm." But it is one thing to argue "use" includes use as a weapon, but another to argue that it excludes any other use.
2. An additional section of the statute deals with the seizure of firearms and includes, on its list of offenses, the use of firearms for barter or commerce. Clearly, the statute contemplates a broader use for weapons than just violent use.
iv. Finally, the rule of lenity provides that any ambiguities in the text of a criminal statute must be construed in favor of a criminal defendant.
However, the rule of lenity does not apply here, because the possibility of reading a word more narrowly does not render the word ambiguous.
c. Conviction upheld. Judgment of Court of Appeals affirmed.
6. Dissent: Scalia (Stevens and Souter concurring)
a. No, because use means use for its intended purpose; the meaning of use varies with context within the statute; and the debate suggests ambiguity and therefore that the rule of lenity should apply.
b. Arguments for:
i. We give nontechnical words their ordinary meaning. The ordinary meaning of 'use' is "use for its intended purpose."
ii. In the context of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1), use of firearm means using the firearm as a weapon.
1. With common words, context is key, and words will have varying meanings across a statute. Although one section of the statute refers to using weapons in commerce, "use" is a common word and may have other meanings elsewhere in the statute.
iii. Finally, this debate over the meaning of the word "use" shows that the statute is sufficiently ambiguous that the rule of lenity should apply in favor of Smith.
Riggs v. Palmer (1889)
Court of Appeals of New York
1. Rule of Law a. When interpreting a statute, a court may depart from the statute's clear text in order to avoid an absurd result.
2. Facts a. Plaintiffs: Mrs. Riggs and Mrs. Preston, daughters of Francis Palmer. 3.
6. b. Defendant: Elmer Palmer, grandson of Francis Palmer.
c. Francis made a will and testament: leaving small legacies to his daughters, the plaintiffs; and leaving the remainder to Elmer, the defendant, subject to the support of D's mother, Mrs. Susan Palmer; and with a gift over to the daughters,
subject to support of D's mother, should D survive Francis and die underage,
unmarried, and without any issue.
d. Francis was a widower and had remarried to Mrs. Bresse, but signed a prenuptial, wherein Bresse forfeited claims to his estate.
e. D lived with Francis and was 16 years old when Francis died. D knew of provisions in D's favor in the will. In order to prevent revocation of these provisions, and to obtain them more quickly, he murdered Francis by poison.
Legal Question a. Can D have the property afforded to him in the will?
Holding and Reasoning: Earl a. No, because that would be absurd, and was not intended by the legislators.
b. Arguments against:
i. Will has been made in due form and admitted to probate. According to letter of law regarding wills and devolution of property, if they cannot be modified or controlled, property goes to the murderer.
ii. Purpose of statutes was to enable testators to dispose of their estates according to legally expressed wishes. Intention of lawmakers was for donees to receive what was willed to them.
c. Arguments for:
i. "It never could have been their intention that a donee who murdered the testator to make the will operative should have any benefit under it."
ii. A thing within the intention of lawmakers is within the statute as much as if it were within the letter; and things within the letter is not in the statute unless it is within the intention of the lawmakers.
iii. Rational Interpretation: lawmakers do not always express their intention perfectly, so judges must collect it from probably or rational conjectures
(Rutherford's institutes; Bacon)
iv. Maxim of common law/public policy: No one shall be permitted to profit by their own crime v. This decision does not inflict upon D greater or other punishment for his crime than the law specifies. It takes no property from him, but simply holds that he shall not acquire property by his crime.
d. Reversal of referee. Judgment in favor of P. D forfeits any right to property in will.
Dissent: Gray (reads) and Danforth (concurs)
a. Yes, because the statutes comprehensively regulate disposition of property, and conditions for alteration are not met; and the criminal act is irrelevant and already punished.
b. Arguments against: i. D, by his crime, unlawfully prevented revocation of existing will, ended enjoyment by testator of property, and effected his own succession to it.
ii. If it were a matter of conscience, P would prevail.
c. Arguments for:
i. Bound by rigid rules of law established by legislature, within which determination of the question is confined. Current case does not meet requirements for alteration.
1. Reference to civil law or laws of other governments are irrelevant;
court is not empowered to institute such a system of remedial justice.
ii. D's criminal act is irrelevant; he has already been punished and does not merit additional punishment.
Holy Trinity Church v. United States (1892)
1. Rule of Law a. A broadly worded statute may not be interpreted to apply to conduct that was not intended to be covered by the statute.
2. Facts a. Defendant: Holy Trinity Church, of New York.
b. Plaintiff: Federal government c. Church made a contract with Englishman E. Walpole Warren, to move to New
York and serve as its rector and pastor. Englishman did so. USG claimed that the contract was forbidden by federal statute, and sued to recover the penalty prescribed by that act.
d. Statute forbids US parties from entering contracts to import or aid in migration the of foreign aliens for the purpose of performing labor or service in the US.
3. Procedural History a. Circuit Court found in favor of P, that the contract was within the prohibition of that statute. D appealed.
4. Legal Question a. Whether lower court erred in concluding that the contract was within the prohibition of the statute.
5. Holding and Reasoning: Brewer a. Yes, because "we cannot think congress intended to denounce with penalties a transaction like that in the present case."
b. Arguments against:
i. Concedes that the act is within letter of the law, for the relation of the rector to church is one of service.
ii. "Labor or service of any kind" and specific exemptions (artists, domestic servants, etc.) strengthen the idea that every other kind of labor or service is intended to be reached by the first section of the statute. c. Nevertheless "We find, therefore, that the title of the act, the evil which was intended to be remedied, the circumstances surrounding the appeal to congress,
the reports of the committee of each house, all concur in affirming that the intent of congress was simply to stay the influx of this cheap, unskilled labor."
i. "Familiar rule that a thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit nor within the intention of its makers."
ii. Words of general meaning are frequently used in a statute, but consideration of the whole legislation, circumstances surrounding its enactment, or absurd results following from broad meaning, make it unreasonable to believe that the legislator intended to include the particular act.
iii. Title of act indicates that it applied only to manual laborers, not professionals: An act to prohibit the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the
United States […]
iv. Contemporaneous events and the problem that the legislation was designed to remedy: Large corporations imported foreign laborers who worked for low wages and 'broke' the labor market, reducing wages. Not a problem of too many professionals.
v. Legislative history, such as petitions and testimony in congress:
committee recommendation that the text be changed to "manual labor and manual service"
vi. Congress would not burden religious institutions: "But, beyond all these matters, no purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people. . ."
vii. Judgment reversed and case remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
September 6, 2017
Rules versus Standards
Rule: cannot drink under age of 21; can't drive over 60 mph
All the work of applying meaning appears to be done already
Standard: no one can drink if something bad will happen; drive prudently and reasonably
Interpretation happens at the time of application
Textualists may prefer rules, since they reduce burden on legal system etc. Rules are over-inclusive or under-inclusive with reference to their justification
60mph speed limit will include people who can drive safely at 70, so it is over-inclusive 60mph speed limit will exclude someone driving 52mph on a snowy, icy road
Folks who wrote Riggs were textualists
In terms of moving parts in applying statutes: text, structure, intention, legislative history, and cannons/principles
Holy Trinity included "Congress won't inhibit religious…"
Smith included rule of lenity
Riggs included "no man shall profit from his own crime"
In the case of estates, the court will be very rigid about what the testator wrote down.
This reduces burden on court. Leads to some error regarding will of testator, in that the court won't investigate what the testator actually thought. But it channels people who want to change wills into writing things down.
In normal conversation, interpretation usually prevails over textualism. Why are a speaker's intentions authoritative in normal conversation?
o Good interpretation just is search for speakers' intention.
o More pragmatic approach is that the enterprise in communication works better if we look towards intentions.
o Consider the case of the subordinate: boss tells you to do something, you try to do what he meant.
When a text is broad, like "unreasonable risk," the standard is to look to what is intended. In the case of a war memorial including a tank in a park where a statute prohibits vehicles in park, we look at the intention of the statute, which is to prevent noise, etc.
Hypothetical: there is a bomb in a restaurant, where a statute prohibits the presence of dogs in the restaurant. A bomb-sniffing dog arrives.
o C.f. a blind person with a seeing-eye dog. Do we know what the lawmakers intend? Poses the risk of turning judges into lawmakers.
o When you depart from text, when the text is rule, you might be turning the rule into a standard. This is complicated when the rule is meant to be a rule.
o Discretion by actors who have power to enforce can take some of the bite away from textualism.
One problem of interpretation on basis of intent with regard to legislative bodies it that you may know what one person intended, but not what the body intended, or the members may have different intentions.
o Interpreting statute textually: Is a rector performing labor or service?
Looking to dictionary, which at the time had specific definitions of labor as physical, and of service as the type of thing a (domestic) servant does,
rector does not appear to be engaged in labor or service.
o Statute includes exceptions for actors, artists, singers, domestic servants
Broader interpretation of §1 must apply, otherwise §5 (exceptions)would make no sense.
On the other hand, a lawyer might say that §5 is written out of an abundance of caution, and doesn't tell us anything about labor
§4 provides special penalties for a master of ship who brings in artisans, manual workers, or laborers. Suggests that the target is manual types of labor, and that labor in §1 should be read in accord with this narrower view.
o Statement of the evil that is meant to remedy is all over the legislative history,
but the house clearly converged on language that outran the intent. The senate report more clearly points out that the statute is meant to be construed as manual labor and manual service.
o Scalia's point is that 'use' is a word that has a very context-dependent meaning.
o But then §924(d)(1) includes use firearm for trade, and §924(c)(1) should be understood as including this.
o Understanding Congress' purpose as deterring the mix of guns and drugs, trading a gun for drugs implicates the statutory purpose.
o The phrase use of a firearm as a weapon does not appear anywhere in the statute. But here Scalia says, we'll its implicit.
Rule of lenity says, 'unless its explicitly forbidden, its permitted.' It also prevents people from being surprised by the applicability of a law. It has rule of law backgrounder.
Does the religious entities principle have a similar constitutional basis? Court is inclined to interpret the law in such a way that it does not raise a constitutional issue of freedom of religion.
Rule of constitutional avoidance: laws should not lightly be taken to raise a constitutional problem. This is a cousin of the rule of lenity.
Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our Administrative law: Legislation and Regulation Outlines.