Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Differing Philosophies


The Michigan Supreme Court has, in recent years, been paring back the ability of lower courts to interpret statutes beyond constructing their plain text. Following Scalia's writings, for example, the Michigan Supreme Court has all but eliminated the ability of state trial and appellate courts to interpret statutes to avoid absurd results.
Our Supreme Court has since criticized and substantially limited, if not eviscerated, the "absurd result" rule, agreeing "with Justice Scalia's description of such attempts to divine unexpressed and nontextual legislative intent as 'nothing but an invitation to judicial lawmaking.'" People v McIntire, 461 Mich. 147, 156 n 2; 599 N.W.2d 102 (1999), quoting Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997), p 21. Thus, whether the plain meaning of a statute may be avoided because its literal application results in an absurdity remains an open question in Michigan.
McGhee v Helsel, 262 Mich App 221, 226; 686 NW2d 6, (2004).

But while Scalia rules the day in Michigan, his philosophies are finding a less receptive audience among his peers. Today in Koons Buick Pontiac GMC, Inc. v. Nigh, the majority rejected the notion that the Court has no role in providing a reasonable interpretation to a carelessly drafted statute, leaving Scalia as a sole dissenter arguing for strict construction divorced from Congressional intent and predecessor statutes.

Some might view this as hair-splitting, with the majority of Justices arguing that where the language is unambiguous, it is inappropriate to correct a drafting error by Congress, but it was nonetheless appropriate to look to extrajudicial sources in the instant case because the statute was ambiguous. Scalia is much more textual in his legal interpretations, statutory or Constitutional - except... well, when he isn't. Like in his preference for the expansion of sovereign immunity, a concept strangely absent from the Constitution. But I guess "that's different". [Insert Emerson Quote Here?]

In any event, should Scalia ever tire of his brethren, I'm sure he can get a job clerking for Chief Justice Corrigan. ;-)

1 comment:

  1. (Did anybody stay awake through that? ;-)

    ReplyDelete