A Clash of Canons: Lenity, Chevron, and the One-Statute, One-Interpretation Rule
Written By: Justin Levine
The proper treatment of hybrid statutes raises a crucial yet unresolved issue that has important ramifications for the course of judicial review in the administrative state. Further, the clash of canons is exacerbated by the so-called “one statute, one-interpretation rule,” which posits that courts must give hybrid statutes just one interpretation for all applications. Adopting the rule of lenity across the board poses the “potential sticker shock of transforming a government-always- wins canon (Chevron) into a government-always-loses canon (rule of lenity).” But if Chevron always wins, such deference “would turn the normal construction of criminal statutes upside-down, replacing the doctrine of lenity with a doctrine of severity.” Furthermore, the hybrid nature of statutory provisions extends far beyond insider trading. “Liability may be either civil or criminal under virtually every provision of the laws administered by the SEC.” Hybrid statutes span the regulatory gamut, and include, for example, antitrust laws, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, various tax statutes, and the Bankruptcy Code.
This Note seeks to resolve these clashing principles of statutory construction by proposing a novel approach that incorporates the rule of lenity into the Chevron framework for hybrid statutes. Specifically, this Note (1) rejects a cate-gorical application of the one-statute, one-interpretation rule, and (2) introduces a framework based on congressional intent, analogous to “Step Zero” of the Chevron analysis, introduced in United States v. Mead Corp. Thus, if Congress demonstrates an intent to apply the one-statute, one-interpretation rule, then one of the four possible solutions discussed in section I.C.2 should prevail. However, absent congressional intent, separation of powers, due process, and practical factors support rebutting the one-statute, one-interpretation rule and instead applying Chevron to civil applications of the statute and the rule of lenity to the criminal applications.
This Note proceeds as follows. Part I analyzes the underlying rationales for the Chevron doctrine and the rule of lenity and explores how the two principles come into conflict in the context of hybrid statutes. Part II evaluates the one-statute, one-interpretation rule and challenges its absolute, unqualified application. Part III details the novel approach introduced above—bifurcating the interpretation of the civil and criminal aspects of the law—and evaluates its benefits over potential alternatives.