Textualism is a form of legislative interpretation in which the plain language of a statute is utilized to establish its meaning. Textualists stick to the objective interpretation of the legal language rather than seeking to discern statutory aim or legislative intent. Textualists believe that the best evidence of what Congress intended by enacting legislation is found in the statutory text itself. Thus, they give no weight to statements made by legislators during the course of debates.
Textualists also do not generally resort to extrinsic materials such as committee reports, legislative history, or treatises for guidance on how to interpret statutes. They believe that such materials are only useful if there is ambiguity in the statutory language, but there often is not. Instead, textualists look to the specific words used in each provision of a statute and attempt to apply them accordingly. If an inconsistency arises, the textist follows the more recent enactment.
Textualists may use other tools when interpreting statutes. For example, they may turn to canons of construction or broader principles of law to help determine what result to reach given ambiguous language in the statute. However, these aids are merely tools that can be used by any court to achieve results consistent with the letter of the law; they are not an alternative to reading the statutory language itself.
The term "textualism" refers to a judicial approach to interpreting a legislation or a constitution that lays a specific focus on "what was agreed to," with the language of the instrument serving as the best proof of this. Textualists argue that courts should look only to the words of a statute or constitutional provision to determine their meaning.
Textualists say that the meaning of a statute or constitutional provision must be determined from its actual words rather than by considering other matters such as the circumstances under which it was passed or the political beliefs of its authors. They assert that courts should avoid using other information about legislative intent, such as comments in debates or reports written by legislators or others.
Textualists also believe that when judges interpret statutes or constitutions they should not use rules of construction or other tools that are used to identify what other things were not intended by the people who drafted them. For example, textualists would say that courts should not use the rule that excludes spouses from owning property together unless that was the clear intent of the parties. Rather, the textualist believes that if there are no words or phrases in the text indicating that one thing was not meant then courts should assume that everything included was intended to be part of the agreement.
The art or process of ascertaining the intended meaning of a written document such as a constitution, legislation, contract, deed, or will. Legal interpretation may be a difficult subject in constitutional and statutory law. A literal reading of a text may be used for legal interpretation. The goal of interpretation is to determine the intent of the author or authors of the text. Using other sources of information, such as the history of the time period during which the document was created, public policy at the time the document was written, etc., can help identify its purpose.
In common law systems, interpretation also includes determining whether a particular act or course of action is permitted by law. If it is not, the lawyer must determine whether an exception to the rule exists that would justify its violation. For example, criminal lawyers must determine whether certain acts are lawful within the parameters of "necessity" or "self-defense". If they are not, then those acts would be unlawful and the attorney should advise his client not to commit them.
In civil law systems, interpretation also includes determining what effect a statute or precedent has on a pending case. The lawyer must first decide whether the case is one that is governed by statute or court decision. If it is controlled by statute, the lawyer must determine which category of cases the statute covers. Does it apply only to certain types of actions?
It is the process of determining the real meaning of a statute's language. The court is not expected to interpret arbitrarily, and as a result, some principles have emerged as a result of the courts' ongoing activity. These ideas are also referred to as "interpretation rules."
One important idea that has developed over time is the concept of legislative intent. The legislature is assumed to intend what it has expressed in its statutes. Thus, if possible, the words of a statute should be given their plain and ordinary meaning. Also, specific terms within a statute may not be extended by implication or interpretation to include other subjects or situations that were not contemplated by the language used.
Another principle is that statutes which are similar in nature but differ in phraseology must be interpreted with reference to how they affect individuals. For example, two different statutes could address identical issues by using different language (e.g., one provides for civil penalties while the other provides for criminal penalties). If the two statutes are inconsistent, that is, if one requires proof of certain facts and the other does not, then the more stringent requirement will control. This means that even though the statutes address the same subject matter, an individual cannot be punished under both.
Still another principle is that statutes relating to the same subject matter should be construed together.
International law interpretation approaches are classified into four types: textual (2.1), systematic (or contextual), purposeful (or teleological), and historical (2.4). (2.4). They are consistent with Friedrich Karl von Savigny's four approaches of legislative interpretation. A fifth approach, contemporary practice, has also been used by some scholars.
Textual interpretation relies on the text of the treaty or other international agreement itself. It is usually the first method used by courts when interpreting treaties. The intent of the parties determines how to interpret ambiguous terms in the document. If there is no such intent expressed in the text, then they will look to other sources for guidance. For example, if a term is defined in the treaty but its definition is unclear, then the court may refer to other parts of the treaty to determine its meaning. Courts will generally not add new provisions or delete existing ones from a document that has been executed by both parties. Thus, any missing words or sections can be inferred through interpretation. For example, if a provision is thought to apply only to corporations, but no such limitation is included in the text, then it can be assumed that Congress intended for the law to apply to natural persons as well.
Systematic interpretation looks at all relevant documents that discuss issues related to the interpretation of the treaty.