Title

Legalese

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Title

Commonweal

Publication Date

11-2013

Abstract

(Excerpt)

Justice Antonin Scalia has built one of the most important jurisprudential legacies in American law. He is best known as a formidable proponent of textualism and originalism. Textualists focus on the meaning of words and eschew more abstract inquiries about the law’s purposes. Originalists attempt to discern the original meaning of a legal document—most frequently the Constitution. Scalia has never been a favorite of the legal professoriate, but it is no surprise that law students and lawyers often find his distinctive approach to legal interpretation lucid and challenging. It is a mark of his pioneering influence and keen intellect that originalism and fidelity to text have become a staple of the Supreme Court’s interpretive methodology, a subject of expansive scholarly study, and an approach that resonates in the popular imagination.

The influence of Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence, however, exceeds the defense of it offered in Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. One may believe that close attention to text is an important feature of legal interpretation without also insisting that it is exclusively important. There is little in this book that will persuade someone with these views to abandon them. Readers wishing for a sophisticated scholarly defense of textualism should look to other treatments—the writing of Scalia’s former law clerk, John Manning, for example, as well as some of Scalia’s own earlier scholarship.

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