Evan Zoldan, ‘Searching for Law in All the Wrong Places’

In ‘The Corpus and the Critics’, Lee and Mouritsen reaffirm their commitment to using corpus linguistics tools in order to interpret legal language. They also respond to critics of their enterprise, both by restating some of their previous positions and also by making some important modifications in light of this criticism. Some of Lee and Mouritsen’s adjustments will make their work more attractive to its critics; other modifications raise still more questions about the propriety of using corpus linguistics tools to interpret legal texts. This Response hopes to advance the conversation by teasing out the implications of Lee and Mouritsen’s new work.

Specifically, Lee and Mouritsen acknowledge that it is not always appropriate to search for the meaning of statutory language in a general corpus – that is, a corpus that includes a variety of types of texts. But, they attempt to soften the force of this concession by arguing that a corpus of legislative history would allow an interpreter to learn how statutory terms are used in legal texts. This Response identifies the reasons why a corpus of legislative history does not, contra Lee and Mouritsen, allow the interpreter to learn how statutory terms are used in legal texts. Moreover, by holding out the promise of a corpus of legislative history, Lee and Mouritsen raise, but do not answer, an all-important preliminary question: how should an interpreter choose the correct corpus to search.

Zoldan, Evan Craig, Searching for Law in All the Wrong Places (June 25, 2021). Minnesota Law Review Headnotes, forthcoming.

First posted 2021-07-12 10:00:04

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