We have a law of civil procedure, criminal procedure, and administrative procedure, but we have no law of legislative procedure. This failure has serious consequences in the field of statutory interpretation. Using simple rules garnered from Congress itself, this Article argues that those rules are capable of transforming the field of statutory interpretation. Addressing canonical cases in the field, from Holy Trinity to Bock Laundry, from Weber to Public Citizen, this Article shows how cases studied by vast numbers of law students are made substantially more manageable, and in some cases quite simple, through knowledge of congressional procedure. No longer need legislative history always be a search for one’s friends.
Call this a decision theory of statutory interpretation. This approach is based on how Congress does in fact make decisions and thus is a positive theory. Normatively, it has the advantage of privileging text without blinding judges either to relevant information or to their duty to implement Congress’s decisions, including Congress’s own decisionmaking methods. It may also have the side benefit of reducing legislative incentives to manipulate the rules or to engage in strategic behavior to induce particular statutory interpretations.
One in five indigent murder defendants in Philadelphia is randomly assigned representation by public defenders while the remainder receive court-appointed private attorneys. We exploit this random assignment to measure how defense counsel affect murder case outcomes. Compared to appointed counsel, public defenders in Philadelphia reduce their clients’ murder conviction rate by 19% and lower the probability that their clients receive a life sentence by 62%. Public defenders reduce overall expected time served in prison by 24%. We find no difference in the overall number of charges of which defendants are found guilty. When we apply methods used in past studies of the effect of counsel that did not use random assignment, we obtain far more modest estimated impacts, which suggests defendant sorting is an important confounder affecting past research. To understand possible explanations for the disparity in outcomes, we interviewed judges, public defenders, and attorneys who took appointments. Interviewees identified a variety of institutional factors in Philadelphia that decreased the likelihood that appointed counsel would prepare cases as well as the public defenders. The vast difference in outcomes for defendants assigned different counsel types raises important questions about the adequacy and fairness of the criminal justice system.