Yesterday was Justice Gorsuch’s first day on the U.S. Supreme Court. At oral argument he’s already peppering lawyers with questions about the “plain meaning” of statutes:
Today’s NY Times reported:
“But Justice Gorsuch approached the case with relish, and he made what is likely to become one of his signature points, that the court’s job is limited to reading the words of the statute under review.
‘Looking at the plain words of the statute,’ he told a lawyer, Christopher Landau. ‘If you could just help me with that.’
Justice Gorsuch returned to his by now usual refrain. “Why shouldn’t we follow the plain language and the traditional understanding of the word ‘action’?” he asked.
I don’t get these right wing jurists and their obsession with plain meaning. The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law . . . ” abridging freedom of the press. The meaning seems plain and absolute. But we know that the freedom to publish doesn’t apply to defamation, or pornography, or threats, or publishing government secrets. Plain meaning is a lot of crap in my opinion. Maybe David Callet understands this plain meaning mumbo jumbo. I don’t!
Rules of construction are just a jurist’s bag of tricks. They will whip out one or another of these to arrive at the outcome they want in any particular case.