In the debate over how federal courts should interpret federal statutes, "faithful agent" theories stand pitted against "dynamic" theories of statutory interpretation. The following questions lie at the heart of the debate: Is the proper role of federal courts to strive to implement the commands of the legislature-in other words, to act as Congress's faithful agents? Or, is the proper role of federal courts to act as partners with Congress in the forward-looking making of federal law-in other words, to interpret statutes dynamically? Proponents of faithful agent theories include both "textualists" and "purposivists." Textualists have argued that federal courts best fulfill their responsibility to serve as faithful agents of Congress by interpreting statutes according to the meaning that their texts most reasonably impart. Certain purposivists have argued that federal courts best fulfill their responsibility to act as faithful agents of Congress by interpreting statutes according to statutory purposes, even where those purposes might contradict the most reasonable import of statutory text. Proponents of dynamic theories of statutory interpretation reject the premise that federal courts should strive to act as faithful agents of Congress. Dynamicists cast federal courts as "cooperative partners" with Congress in the federal lawmaking enterprise, rather than as Congress's agents.
Scholars have debated the constitutional legitimacy of these interpretive theories in separation of powers terms: Which interpretive methodology best comports with the federal "judicial power" of Article III relative to the federal "legislative powers" of Article I? Most notably, Professors William Eskridge and John Manning have debated whether, as a matter of original understandings of the constitutional structure, the Article III "judicial power" of federal courts is a power to interpret statutes as "faithful agents" of Congress, or as agents of "the People," empowered to establish federal policy in partnership with Congress.
This Article argues that how courts ought to interpret federal statutes is not only a "horizontal" question of the separation of powers between federal courts and Congress, but also a "vertical" question of the proper relationship between Congress and state courts-in other words, a federalism question. State courts play an important, often independent, role in the interpretation of federal statutes.
Anthony J. Bellia Jr.,
State Courts and the Interpretation of Federal Statutes,
59 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol59/iss5/1