Vanderbilt Law Review


Stephen F. Ross

First Page



Over forty years ago, in the Symposium we commemorate today, Professor Karl Llewellyn wrote a devastating critique of the canons of statutory construction. For virtually every canon of construction, he demonstrated that there was another canon that could be employed to reach the opposite result. His point was not to be critical, but to argue proscriptively that the process of statutory construction requires an interpretation in light of a judicial determination of "some assumed purpose."'

Other commentators, both before and after the publication of Llewellyn's magnificent contribution to the Vanderbilt Law Review, have taken a different approach. These observers have focused, in a critical way, on judicial abuse of the canons whose indeterminacy Llewellyn so brilliantly exposed. Over a century ago, British jurisprude Sir Frederick Pollock wrote that canons "cannot well be accounted for except on the theory that Parliament generally changes the law for the worse, and that the business of the judges is to keep the mischief of its interference within the narrowest possible bounds."' At the height of conservative judicial activism colloquially known as the Lochner era, Professor James Landis warned that the "real difficulty" in statutory interpretation was that "strong judges prefer to override the intent of the legislature in order to make law according to their own views.''