[LINK] Law Goes Meta

by TimS1 min read28th Sep 20125 comments


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Some legal background:

  • In the United States, there are several courts of appeals, called Circuit Courts. They can disagree about legal points - this is called a circuit split. One of the purposes of the Supreme Court is to resolve circuit splits.
  • Sometimes, laws are ruled to be ambiguous. If so, the relevant agency regulations interpreting the law are determinative, unless the regulations are an obviously stupid interpretation. This is called Chevron deference.

One would think that disagreement between Circuits about the meaning of a law would be legally relevant evidence about whether the law was ambiguous. Instead, there appears to be a circuit split on the meaning of circuit splits.

More available here, for the amusement of those on this site who like to think meta. Also a bit of a lesson on the limits of meta-style analysis in solving actual problems.

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Note the comment by "Jurist of Reason" on that article:

If you google the cites, you can quickly find that neither the 11th or 4th Circuits were talking about Chevron deference (in both cases, the issue was the interpretation of 28 USC 1367, the supplemental jurisdiction statute), and neither actually said that the existence of a circuit split could never be considered in evaluating ambiguity. Rather, they rejected, in passing, suggestions that a disagreement among circuits about the meaning of a statute automatically makes it ambiguous, instead finding that each court had a duty to make its own determination. This seems pretty unexceptional to me.

(To be more specific, the non-admin context matters because these courts had to actually decide what a statute meant, they couldn't just punt and say that it was "ambiguous" and so an agency decision was reasonable.)

As an aside, many people have trouble understanding that a lot of legal proceedings are about meta-level issues (whether and how a case can proceed, as opposed to the merits).

I'm not sure I agree. Many legal doctrines, especially procedural doctrines (like jurisdiction), are justified based on knock-on effects. But that is different than recursive analysis.

Or, to use LW terminology, meta != decision-theoretic reasoning.

I don't think we're talking about the same thing. I was simply making the point that many people don't understand the difference between procedural issues and substantive ones.

Fair enough. I'm just allergic to invocations of "meta" to explain complicated things.

Which is incredibly ironic, given my original post. :)