Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The much-maligned canons of statutory construction stubbornly have survived, largely on the strength of the assertion that whatever the aim of the statute's interpretation, an interpretive canon will improve the chances that the statute's aim will be realized. Canonical construction serves two different functions. Some of the canons ostensibly are designed as short-cuts to the discovery of the legislature's "true" intent. Professor Geoffrey Miller has explained how the canons may reflect the judicial articulations of conversational conventions that help courts understand otherwise vexing statutory language.' Canons may also serve as surrogates for other, better evidence of legislators' intent. In this regard, canonical construction is a second-best strategy. It is a concession to the intractability of traditional legislative history and the problems inherent in other approaches of discerning both legislative intent and the purposes of the statute.

Other canons represent interpretive rules based upon substantive policy.' This sort of canonical construction enables courts to articulate, in the context of their responsibility to interpret the words and history of the statute, critical public values and to implement legislative policy in the light of these values. Statutory interpretation is a more incremental, and less rigid, form of judicial decisionmaking than constitutional interpretation. Hence, canonical construction implements important values with less disruption to the political and legislative processes.