Legislative intentionalism and proxy agency

Law and Philosophy 29 (1):1-29 (2010)
Intentionalism is the view that statutes should be interpreted in accordance with the intentions of the legislatures that produce them. As a theory of legislative interpretation, intentionalism has been very influential, but it has also been subject to much critical attention. It is claimed that legislatures will seldom have any relevant intentions, and that even if they did, we could not come to know them. I propose a modification of intentionalism that significantly mitigates the severity of these problems. I begin by noting that legislation is seldom (if ever) written by an entire legislature. Instead, it is commonly written by individuals or subgroups acting as proxies on behalf of the legislature. I then argue that the reasons why legislation should be interpreted in accordance with the intentions of legislatures are equally applicable to the intentions of proxies. This is significant because proxies are much more likely to have ascertainable intentions.
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