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A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  473 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
In exploring the neglected art of statutory interpretation, Antonin Scalia urges that judges resist the temptation to use legislative intention and legislative history. In his view, it is incompatible with democratic government to allow the meaning of a statute to be determined by what the judges think the lawgivers meant rather than by what the legislature actually promul ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published August 16th 1998 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 1997)
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Jul 04, 2014 Hadrian rated it liked it
This is a series of essays about the role of federal courts in interpreting common law and statutory law, with the centerpiece being an essay by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia's view is that there is no single unified method of jurisprudence today about the interpretation of laws, whether in law schools or in the courts themselves. His concern is on the undemocratic institution of non-elected judges passing decisions on statutory law, and his aim is to produce a more coherent philosoph
Nov 30, 2016 Myles rated it did not like it
Shelves: law-school
"The man was so full of shit, that if you'd given him an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox."

With a creepily avuncular tone, Scalia advances his originalist agenda without really acknowledging that maybe we're better off not giving the final say on the great legal questions of our time to unelected judges who want us to believe that the framers of the Constitution are on their side of the ideological divide. Instead of the text and manipulative historical readings, which he admits ar
Feb 17, 2016 Ibrahim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judiciary
This book is more of a Symposium, where Justice Scalia presents his essay that develops the essence of Textualism, aka Originalism, which is essential to constitutional democracy; then it is followed by responses from Professors Donald Dworkin (who published a book titled 'A Matter of Principle'), Mary Ann Glendon, Laurence Tribe and Gordon Wood. In the final part of this book, Justice Scalia offers a response to each Professor. Justice Scalia is known for rejecting the notion of a "living" or " ...more
Jul 03, 2008 chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: assigned
It's really a collection of essays: A central tract by Scalia, responses by several interesting and learned professors, a useless introduction by another professor, and a rebuttal by Scalia.

While I find Mr. Scalia's rulings often troubling, the theory that he presents here is well-grounded and coherent. It's originalism, or textualism, or strict textualism, or textual interpretation; whatever the name, Scalia believes in a formalistic, reasonable reading of the Constitution that's not informed
Feb 24, 2014 Brent rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, law
Despite your own leanings on judicial philosophy, this is a must read book. Not only does it provide a very concise summation of the original meaning school of constitutional and statutory interpretation. But further, the responses by Professors Wood, Tribe, Glendon, and Dworkin provide a fascinating comparison between each of their own philosophies with that of Scalia.

Those things aside, Scalia's writing is fascinating in its own right. It's interesting to have read this book after reading Bor
Brandyn Murillo
Nov 13, 2016 Brandyn Murillo rated it it was amazing
Read the series of essays for an undergraduate writing/political science class. At the least, I can say that Scalia possess a very strong writing ability and way of going about the law. I don't necessarily agree with his position, but at times I can't help but being swayed by his arguments. Wit and intelligence is what most definitely characterizes his writing.

There is a tendency here to discuss his views and where they falter, but I don't think this is the stage to do so. Anyone who knows anyt
Oct 15, 2016 Richard marked it as to-read-2nd
Recommended by Cass Sunstein in Five Books to Change Liberals’ Minds :
Having read these books, you might continue to believe that progressives are more often right than wrong, and that in general, the U.S. would be better off in the hands of Democrats than Republicans. But you’ll have a much better understanding of the counterarguments -- and on an issue or two, and maybe more, you’ll probably end up joining those on what you once saw as “the other side.”
Vj Ire
Sep 21, 2008 Vj Ire rated it it was amazing
NOT WHAT YOU THINK! It is a really good set of essays about why judicial interpretation (as opposed to textual interpretation) is a less stable system for a democracy. There are certain barriers to legislative and executive purview over the people of this country that judicial interpretation breaks down.
"Don't run away from this, Dude! Goddamnit, this affects all of us!
I'm staying. Finishing my coffee."
Dec 26, 2015 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting step into the mind of Justice Scalia. He towers over the other commenters in the book and he is flamboyant as usual. A must read for anyone interested in the American justice system and justice in general.
Dan Cotter
Sep 29, 2014 Dan Cotter rated it it was amazing
Very entertaining set of essays. Scalia witted his thoughts, a number of others try to poke holes, and he responds. Interesting because over time his method has changed (see A Court of One) and this book is from late 1990's. Worthwhile read.
Dec 03, 2015 Ian rated it it was amazing
Stimulating. Scalia is witty and trenchant, and the respondents provide compelling counterarguments that really expose the basic premises of constitutional interpretation and our the blindnesses imposed by culture, location, and tradition.
Jun 21, 2014 EricW rated it it was amazing
Shelves: law
A short, effective book that should be required reading for first-year law students.
Nikki Raspa
May 22, 2008 Nikki Raspa rated it it was amazing
I heart Scalia!
Christianne McKinnon
Apr 20, 2016 Christianne McKinnon rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books. A very interesting read on how the Constitution is interpreted. Very thought provoking.
Brad Lyerla
Nov 18, 2013 Brad Lyerla rated it it was amazing
This is a better book than I expected. I will get to reviewing it soon.
May 06, 2017 Brandon rated it really liked it
Agree or disagree with him (I often end up on the ladder), the man is a brilliant writer whose lively writing style can make even the most esoteric legal topic perhaps not fun, but at least bearable. That being said, Scalia decries the import of the common-law mindset into the federal court system- especially as it pertains to interpreting statutes and the Constitution. He agrees that Judges in the common law tradition, contrary to once popular opinion, legislate from the bench. To the reader ab ...more
Jul 29, 2011 Joey rated it really liked it
I truly want to get onboard with Justice Scalia’s brand of interpreting common law, statute, and the Constitution. It is attractive because it is true to our contemporary understanding of the democratic structure and processes of our country: legislatures create laws, the executive branch executes those laws, and, when disputes arise, judges apply the laws to the facts and thus reaffirm the law while deciding the dispute. It is also attractive because of its consistency: a judge, Scalia maintain ...more
May 12, 2017 Melissa rated it really liked it
Not just an essay by Justice Scalia, but a series of responses by other noted constitutional and Supreme Court scholars. The format means that there is less coherence than I would have liked, and the writing always has the smack of legalese. I can't point to specific passages; it's just a general sense.
The Thousander Club
May 31, 2013 The Thousander Club rated it liked it
Adam C. Zern opines . . .

"I heard about A Matter of Interpretation by looking over The Federalist Society’s “Conservative and Libertarian Pre-law Reading list.” (In fact, I found what became one of my favorite books—A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell—on this reading list). After reading The Federalist Papers I realized I had a tremendously lacking understanding of our judiciary and the nuances of our system. Reading A Matter of Interpretation was an effort to try and fill in some of the gap
Jon Ciliberto
Jul 28, 2013 Jon Ciliberto rated it liked it
Judges interpret laws. The question of what interpretation actually is, and how or whether judges ought to go about it, is explored here in the form of an essay by Justice Scalia and responding essays by several scholars in the field. Scalia, say what you will about his weird and crazy ideas (e.g., that the Devil exists and that the reason we don't see as much demonic possession as compared to the old days is that the Devil has gotten 'wilier'
 []), Scalia
Jun 22, 2008 Rex rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book helped me understand the controversy surrounding how to appropriately interpret the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia first presents his view on proper interpretation--textualism. Then five other legal minds weigh in on the pros and cons of a textualist interpretation (at least Scalia's textualist version) of the Constitution. Scalia then gets a final say to clarify/rebut the invited comments.

Scalia's initial essay was the easiest to read and most interesting portion
Oct 10, 2007 Jenny rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The first time I read this book, I was a senior in college, graduation mere weeks away. I didn't pay attention to Scalia's pompous narrative so much as his message. I just wanted to finish the damn book, get the paper written, and walk across the stage. Reading it again, I notice an almost dangerous sense of self-righteousness in his book, much like the air in Justice Breyer's. However, Scalia's conclusions on Constitutional Law fall more along my line of thinking, and so I can partly forgive hi ...more
Feb 14, 2016 Corey rated it really liked it
A fine description by Scalia of his thoughts on the role of Courts, their powers, and an appropriate approach to judicial interpretation of law. Scalia rightly fears the undemocratic judiciary in a democracy. He eloquently and wittily explains his view of textualism as the most reasonable approach for judges. I found much wisdom and intelligence in his article. The book includes comments from leading scholars rebutting Scalia's piece, and concludes with a rebuttal to those comments by Scalia.
Jeff Raymond
I preface this by saying I'm a layperson coming in on what is really a fairly detailed look at some legal theory that is probably 101 stuff for those with any background. So I'm approaching this more from that than anything else, and much of the debate over Scalia isn't really appropriate for here.

With that said, I got a lot out of this essay + responses collection, which laid out Scalia's theory on Constitutional interpretation as well as offered critics an opportunity to respond (and Scalia in
Jun 26, 2007 Trevor rated it liked it
Shelves: 1997
I'm not giving this book four stars because I agree with all of what Scalia says, even though I think his methodology is sound. I am giving it four stars because this book is a clear discussion on methods of interpreting the constitution. You get to read Scalia's argument about "the best" method to use to interprest the Constitution and statutes--it's his method, of course. But then you also get several rebuttals from other experts, who try to show the problems with Scalia's methodology. Then, a ...more
Jeff Ricks
Aug 13, 2010 Jeff Ricks rated it really liked it
I'm a fan of Scalia. This book contains an essay by him about statutory and constitutional interpretation, and then 4 various scholars' responses, and then a final response to those by Scalia. This isn't going to be interesting to anyone who doesn't care about the Constitution, but to anyone interested in law and how the judiciary of our nation should operate, this is fantastic. I loved getting not just his opinion, but also the opinions of Tribe and Dworkin on the subject. It's hard to know whe ...more
Sep 04, 2008 Jodi rated it really liked it
Shelves: legal-philosophy
This book confirmed forever my status as a law geek--I got so excited reading this that I stayed up late to finish it. What I found so interesting was not just Scalia's articulation of his principles of statutory interpretation, although it was the first I'd read of anyone setting out some sort of reasoned approach to reading statutes (and I'm not so sure Scalia always follows his stated approach), but, more importantly, the essays in response to his initial response illuminated some of the issu ...more
Sean Rosenthal
Jun 14, 2013 Sean Rosenthal rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, law
Interesting Quote:

"If the Courts are free to write the Constitution anew, they will, by God, write it the way the majority wants; the appointment and confirmation process will see to that. This, of course, is the end of the Bill of Rights, whose meaning will be committed to the very body it was meant to protect against: the majority. By trying to make the Constitution do everything that needs doing from age to age, we shall have caused it to do nothing at all."

-Justice Scalia, A Matter of Interp
Paul Bond
May 14, 2012 Paul Bond rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Antonin Scalia is a tragic figure. He can tear down any mode of legal theorizing that displeases him. But Scalia can't seem to build up a method of interpreting laws that even he can consistently follow. Attention to legislative history? Scalia blows that out of the water, makes it look positively Looney Toons. So, how do we understand constitutional or statutory phrases? Just look at the text, he says. But, in practice, Scalia inserts his value judgments into textual ambiguities all the time. S ...more
Shea Bartlett
Mar 23, 2014 Shea Bartlett rated it liked it
Shelves: academia
Ah, Scalia. I have such conflicted feelings towards this Supreme Court Justice. On one hand, I find myself disagreeing with multiple decisions and I loathe his method of interpretation. However, this book was an interesting look into his head, and I clearly outlines his reasoning for his methods. He's a good writer, and I always have been entertained by his opinions. If you have any interest in the SCOTUS, I would recommend this book.
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Antonin Gregory Scalia is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan having previously served on the D.C. Circuit and in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and teaching law at the Universities of Virginia and Chicago. He is considered to be a core member of the conservative wing of the court, vigorously advancing textualism ...more
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