Jack Stark
32 Glen Arbor Way 
Fitchburg, WI 53711
(608) 271-9245



                                                I. Definitions

A. ambiguity

alternative: “Is there a question that requires judgment about the way this legal rule, as expressed by this statute, ought to be applied to this set of facts?”

B. canons

C. legislative history

D. statutory construction

II. Assumption

                        You will almost always want your purpose to prevail in statutory   construction.

                                    III. Plain meaning or interpretation

A. plain meaning

B. interpretation

                                    IV. Schools of interpretation

A. textualism

B. republicanism

C. purposivism

                                    V. Some goals of statutory construction

A. predictability

B. objectivity

C. flexibility


                                                VI. Interpretive tools

A. intent

B. purpose

C. legislative history

D. extrinsic aides

E. the canons of statutory construction


1 titles of statutory units do not control meaning

2. a title of a statutory unit may be consulted to remove doubt or obscurity


3. words are to be given their ordinary meanings

4. popular words may be given a technical meaning, and technical words may be given an ordinary meaning


                                                VII. Playing defense

A. goals

B. some canons to be aware of in order to influence interpretations:


1. expressio unius exclusio alterius: expression of one            thing excludes others

2. ejusdem generis: a general term that follows             specific terms is to be given only the meanings that resemble those of the specific terms

3. rule of lenity

4. every word and phrase shall be given an effect

C. some tools to use in order to make a literal reading more likely

1. audience finder

2. accuracy achiever

3. main purpose finder

4. the five functions

5. the connectors

6. definitions

7. the spectroscope

8. the reality check


                                                            VIII. A case

                                    State v. Worgull, 128 Wis.2d 1 (1986)

            Worgul, a trustee, assigned property to creditors.  He was charged with theft by trustee.  One issue in the case was whether the following statute applied to him:


“Every person to whom it shall be alleged that any transfer of property has been made, or in whose possession or control the same is alleged to be, may be compelled to testify in relation thereto to the transfer or possession

of such property.”

            The state argued that the statute applied only to persons to whom  someone else has allegedly transferred property.  The court held that Worgull was “a person who may possess such property,” so that the statute applied to him.

                        IX. Bibliography

            Llewelyan, Karl, “Remarks on the Theory of Appellate Decision and the Rules or Canons About

 How Statutes Are to Be Construed,” Vanderbilt

Law Review 1950, volume 3, page 395-406.

            Popkin, William, Statutes in Court: The History and Theory of Statutory Interpretation (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1999).

            Stark, Jack, The Art of the Statute (Littleton, Colorado: Fred B. Rothman, 1996), pp. 111-116.

            Stark, Jack, “On Language Games and Statutory Interpretation: An Inside Narrative,” Statute Law Review,

 vol. 20, no. 2 (1999), p. 144-153.

            Sutherland, J. B. (updated by Norman J. Singer), Statutes and Statutory Construction (Minneapolis: West Publishing Company, 2000).


            Statutory Construction Zone: www.statconblog.blogspot.con