This Article is about carrying out informal instructions given by people in authority. Although many scholars have written about how legal interpretation resembles interpretation in fields such as literature and religion, few have compared informal instructions and legal rules. My most basic assumption in this Article is that focus on informal situations can illumine the standards people use in performing instructions and the kinds of meaning they attribute to instructions. As my title implies, if we reflect on what amounts to faithful or desirable performance of informal directives and the more conceptual question of what these prescriptive standards "mean," we can learn something about how to understand ordinary language in law, about the possible legal relevance of the intent of those who issue directions, and about how people should respond to legal directives.
Because legislation, executive orders, and wills may be conceived as directives about what people should do, informal illustrations may have a bearing on understanding these parts of the law. Aspects of the illustrations may also have relevance for contracts, constitutional interpretation, and common law adjudication. Of course, no move from simple, personal examples to most legal ones will be easy. One critical obstacle involves the complexities of multi-member bodies. Another concerns the characteristics of legal systems, including what Robert Summers calls its formal aspects2 and the tripartite relations between people who formulate legal norms, those directly subject to the norms, and the agencies responsible for enforcing the norms.
From the Bottom Up,
Cornell L. Rev.
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