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Print Vol. 105 Issue 1


The Audiences of Statutes

David S. Louk

18 Dec 2019

Although a maxim of statutory drafting is to identify the relevant audience and draft so that the audience can “get the message,” conventional theories of statutory interpretation often overlook important considerations about how statutes communicate and delegate to a diverse range of intended

This Article argues that considerations of statutory audience and canons and methods of interpretation are necessarily linked, and it offers the first extensive account of the relationship between judicial statutory interpretation methodology and statutory audience. This ambit is both descriptive and normative. Descriptively, this Article identifies the subtle
ways in which courts already implicitly, if inconsistently, seem influenced by statutory audience considerations. Courts invoke substantive canons of interpretation that can be understood in part as audience canons: the rule of lenity (for laypeople), interpretive deference (for administrative agencies), clear notice rules (for states as Spending Clause counterparties), and mistake-of-law defenses (for deficient taxpayers but not criminal defendants). These substantive judicial doctrines recognize that statutes communicate to, and alter the behavior of, different audiences in distinctive ways. Yet when it comes to choices of interpretive methods, courts often employ onesize-fits-all approaches to interpretation, drawing (or not drawing) on the same preferred semantic and syntactic canons of construction, evidence of linguistic usage, and other sources of statutory meaning regardless of the statute or its audience(s). Courts do so even when this approach may undermine both the normative goals that motivate audience-oriented substantive doctrines as well as the efficacy of the
statutory scheme itself.