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We are in the midst of a series of lively debates about how to interpret enacted laws such as written constitutions and statutes. In constitutional law, there is a spirited clash between "originalists" and "nonoriginalists". In the statutory arena, we have a three-way battle between "textualists," "intentionalists", and "pragmatists." A common feature of these contending schools is an insistence on a single, correct approach to interpretation. In this respect, however, each of these rival theories deviates from the Practice of interpretation. Real world interpreters – to a person – deploy a variety of interpretative methods when they seek to resolve the contested meaning of authoritative texts. The actual practice of interpretation is characterized by a plurality of approaches to interpretation, as opposed to adherence to a unitary ideal.

This Essay is an effort to sketch out, in a preliminary fashion, a typology of interpretative approaches, and to offer some suggestions about how to develop a conception of interpretation that synthesizes these different approaches. My hope is that this synthesis will provide a better understanding of how the interpretation of enacted texts proceeds in actual practice, as well as a guide that provides at least a broad overview of how it should proceed.


Constitutional Law | Law