Purposive Interpretation in Law

Princeton University Press
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This book presents a comprehensive theory of legal interpretation, by a leading judge and legal theorist. Currently, legal philosophers and jurists apply different theories of interpretation to constitutions, statutes, rules, wills, and contracts. Aharon Barak argues that an alternative approach--purposive interpretation--allows jurists and scholars to approach all legal texts in a similar manner while remaining sensitive to the important differences. Moreover, regardless of whether purposive interpretation amounts to a unifying theory, it would still be superior to other methods of interpretation in tackling each kind of text separately.

Barak explains purposive interpretation as follows: All legal interpretation must start by establishing a range of semantic meanings for a given text, from which the legal meaning is then drawn. In purposive interpretation, the text's "purpose" is the criterion for establishing which of the semantic meanings yields the legal meaning. Establishing the ultimate purpose--and thus the legal meaning--depends on the relationship between the subjective and objective purposes; that is, between the original intent of the text's author and the intent of a reasonable author and of the legal system at the time of interpretation. This is easy to establish when the subjective and objective purposes coincide. But when they don't, the relative weight given to each purpose depends on the nature of the text. For example, subjective purpose is given substantial weight in interpreting a will; objective purpose, in interpreting a constitution.

Barak develops this theory with masterful scholarship and close attention to its practical application. Throughout, he contrasts his approach with that of textualists and neotextualists such as Antonin Scalia, pragmatists such as Richard Posner, and legal philosophers such as Ronald Dworkin. This book represents a profoundly important contribution to legal scholarship and a major alternative to interpretive approaches advanced by other leading figures in the judicial world.

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About the author

Aharon Barak was president of the Supreme Court of Israel until his retirement in 2006. He is the author of Judicial Discretion, The Judge in a Democracy, numerous articles in English-language law journals, and several books in Hebrew. He is the winner of the 2006 Gruber Justice Prize from the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation. He is the author of Judicial Discretion (Yale), numerous articles in English-language law journals, and several books in Hebrew.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 16, 2011
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Pages
448
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ISBN
9781400841264
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Jurisprudence
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Aharon Barak
Whether examining election outcomes, the legal status of terrorism suspects, or if (or how) people can be sentenced to death, a judge in a modern democracy assumes a role that raises some of the most contentious political issues of our day. But do judges even have a role beyond deciding the disputes before them under law? What are the criteria for judging the justices who write opinions for the United States Supreme Court or constitutional courts in other democracies? These are the questions that one of the world's foremost judges and legal theorists, Aharon Barak, poses in this book.

In fluent prose, Barak sets forth a powerful vision of the role of the judge. He argues that this role comprises two central elements beyond dispute resolution: bridging the gap between the law and society, and protecting the constitution and democracy. The former involves balancing the need to adapt the law to social change against the need for stability; the latter, judges' ultimate accountability, not to public opinion or to politicians, but to the "internal morality" of democracy.

Barak's vigorous support of "purposive interpretation" (interpreting legal texts--for example, statutes and constitutions--in light of their purpose) contrasts sharply with the influential "originalism" advocated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

As he explores these questions, Barak also traces how supreme courts in major democracies have evolved since World War II, and he guides us through many of his own decisions to show how he has tried to put these principles into action, even under the burden of judging on terrorism.

Aharon Barak
Whether examining election outcomes, the legal status of terrorism suspects, or if (or how) people can be sentenced to death, a judge in a modern democracy assumes a role that raises some of the most contentious political issues of our day. But do judges even have a role beyond deciding the disputes before them under law? What are the criteria for judging the justices who write opinions for the United States Supreme Court or constitutional courts in other democracies? These are the questions that one of the world's foremost judges and legal theorists, Aharon Barak, poses in this book.

In fluent prose, Barak sets forth a powerful vision of the role of the judge. He argues that this role comprises two central elements beyond dispute resolution: bridging the gap between the law and society, and protecting the constitution and democracy. The former involves balancing the need to adapt the law to social change against the need for stability; the latter, judges' ultimate accountability, not to public opinion or to politicians, but to the "internal morality" of democracy.

Barak's vigorous support of "purposive interpretation" (interpreting legal texts--for example, statutes and constitutions--in light of their purpose) contrasts sharply with the influential "originalism" advocated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

As he explores these questions, Barak also traces how supreme courts in major democracies have evolved since World War II, and he guides us through many of his own decisions to show how he has tried to put these principles into action, even under the burden of judging on terrorism.

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