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Interpreting the laws of the US Congress

The laws of US Congress—federal statutes—often contain ambiguous or even contradictory wording, creating a problem for the judges tasked with interpreting them. Should they only examine the text or can judges consult sources beyond the statutes themselves? Is it relevant to consider the purposes of lawmakers in writing law?

In Judging Statutes, Robert A. Katzmann offers a powerful challenge to Antonin Scalia’s textualist approach with a spirited and compelling defense of why judges must look at the legislative record behind a law—and not merely the statute itself. We interviewed Judge Katzmann about methods of interpreting statutes, understanding statutes through legislative history, and increasing understanding between the courts and Congress. In the clips below, he discusses textualism and purposivism, two methods judges use to interpret statutes, how legislative history guides judicial understanding of statutes, and ways to improve the relationship between the courts and Congress.

Methods of interpreting statutes

Understanding statutes through legislative history

Increasing understanding between courts and Congress

Headline image credit: Male Judge Holding Law Book. © AndreyPopov via iStock.

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