by Brianne Gorod (@BrianneGorod), Appellate Counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center and former clerk for the Hon. Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Gorod interviewed Katzmann about his new book, Judging Statues.
The Supreme Court made lots of headlines recently when it decided to hear King v. Burwell, a case about the meaning of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a good reminder: although much of the talk about the federal courts focuses on constitutional questions, much of the work the federal courts do involves statutory ones. Indeed, for Supreme Court justices and other federal judges, a significant part of their job—and an incredibly important part—is attempting to understand and give meaning to the laws passed by Congress.
In his new book Judging Statutes, Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, provides readers with insight into how federal judges can—and should—go about that task. As Judge Katzmann explains, “[o]ver the last twenty-five years, there has been a spirited debate in the courts, Congress, and the academy about how to interpret federal statutes,” with Justice Scalia championing the view that courts should “look to . . . the words of the statute, and to virtually nothing else.” In his book, Judge Katzmann provides a compelling defense of the alternative view, arguing that courts should look to legislative history to help understand and give meaning to the laws that Congress enacts. As he puts it, “In our constitutional system in which Congress, the people’s branch, is charged with enacting laws, how Congress makes its purposes known—through text and reliable accompanying materials—should be respected, lest the integrity of legislation be undermined.”
The work has already received considerable attention—for example, in Justice Stevens’ essay in The New York Review of Books, Jeffrey Toobin’s column in The New Yorker, Norman Ornstein’s column in The Atlantic, Tony Mauro’s story in the National Law Journal, Ronald Collins’ post on the blog Concurring Opinions, and on Brian Lamb’s C-Span Q & A program.