Katzmann Book Talk Draws Legal Luminaries

September 25, 2014 —

In the 2006 case of Arlington Central School District Board of Education v. Murphy, the Supreme Court had to consider whether an award of attorney’s fees given to parents suing the school included fees for expert witnesses. Then a question arose: Should the Court consider simply the text of statutes like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or look beyond the text to the statute’s legislative history to determine what Congress actually intended?

Robert A. Katzmann, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, takes the latter view in a new book, Judging Statutes (Oxford University Press, 2014). And in a September 23rd panel discussion at Georgetown Law, Dean William M. Treanor, Professor David Vladeck, the New York Times’ Adam Liptak and M. Douglass Bellis, senior counsel in the Office of the Legislative Counsel in the U.S. House of Representatives, helped celebrate the book’s launch with Katzmann, a member of Georgetown Law’s board of visitors. 

“So much of what we do as judges involves interpretation of the laws of Congress,” said Katzmann, explaining why he wrote the book. While much has been written about how judges should interpret statutes, it’s important to know how Congress views its own work product. The committee reports and conference reports that accompany legislation can assist the judges deciding what a law means, he said. “If you discard legislative history … then you will be ignoring what [members of Congress and their staffs] think are important.”  

The event was a noteworthy demonstration of Georgetown Law’s unique place in Washington, D.C. Audience members included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Law Librarian of Congress David Mao (L’93), who helped Treanor open the conversation, observed that students are just a short walk away from the Capitol where legislative history is being made, so they can “go over there and be a part of that history in the making.”

The event was co-sponsored by Georgetown Law and the Law Library of Congress, through a generous gift from the Burton Foundation for Legal Achievement.

To view a webcast, click here.