Volume 109
Issue
Summer '21

Getting into Mischief: Reflections on Statutory Interpretation and the Mischief Rule

Written By: Timothy J. Bradley

Abstract

This Note responds to Professor Samuel L. Bray’s article, The Mischief Rule, 109 GEO. L.J. 967 (2021). Professor Bray argues that textualists should embrace the “mischief rule,” which instructs an interpreter to consider the problem to which a statute was addressed and the way in which the statute is a remedy for that problem. He maintains that the mischief should be taken as part of the initial context for interpreting a statute and not just as a tool for resolving ambiguities. This Note identifies three difficulties with the mischief rule: the difficulty of separating mischief from pur-pose, the difficulty of identifying mischief in a principled and reliable way, and the difficulty of applying the mischief rule in a helpful way even if one can reliably identify it. It proceeds to consider the importance of context in statutory interpretation. Although the mischief rule may be an appropriate tool for resolving statutory ambiguities, this Note argues that it should not be deployed if the meaning of a law is reasonably clear when read in its semantic and structural contexts. 

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