Rules of Statutory Construction (transcript)

Today’s post is on rules of statutory construction primarily for the non-lawyer.

For those working in and around the California State Capitol, it’s important to understand general rules of statutory construction whether you’re a lawyer or a non-lawyer.

The general rule of statutory construction is to effectuate the intent of the Legislature, which basically requires the courts to give the statutory language its usual and ordinary meaning.

The fundamental rule of statutory construction is known as the plain language rule. Basically, this rule provides that when the meaning of a statute is clear and unambiguous, there’s usually no need for a court to apply any of those rules of statutory construction because the plain meaning of the statute can be ascertained without resorting to what we call the use of extrinsic aids to help in understanding the language.

Under this rule, if the statute is clear then the courts presume the Legislature meant what they wrote in the statute and the courts give effect to the plain meaning of that statute.

In order to resort to the general rules of statutory construction, a court must determine that there’s ambiguity in the statutory language and as a result it’s unclear what was intended by the Legislature in enacting the particular statute. The courts have determined that a party demonstrates statutory ambiguity by providing an alternative meaning to the statutory language and, as a result, the statutory language can be given more than one interpretation, then a court generally should consider extrinsic aids to determine the purpose of the statute and the intent of the Legislature.

Among the extrinsic aids are the legislative history of the statute, the public policy surrounding its enactment, the statutory scheme in which the language is found, and other related issues. In this regard, the language of a statute should be construed in light of the rest of the statutory scheme in which the particular statute is found. The goal of the court is to harmonize the parts of the statute by considering the context of the statutory framework in which this particular statute is found.

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