NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
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Volume 82, Number 6

December 2007

Where Are All the Left-Wing Textualists?

Paul Killebrew

What Professor William Eskridge once called “the new textualism” is not so new anymore. Statutory textualism has adherents on the Supreme Court, throughout the federal judiciary, and, increasingly, in academia as well. And almost all of them are politically conservative. Why is that true? This Note contends that it need not be. Taken at face value, textualism serves neither conservative nor liberal ends. However, those most closely identified with textualism—namely, Justice Antonin Scalia and Judge Frank Easterbrook—practice a form of textualism that creates institutional dynamics that tend to reconcile with a preference for limited government. Their textualism, which this Note dubs “clarity-driven textualism,” constrains the functioning of Congress, executive agencies, and judges in ways that make government hard to do: Statutes are hard to write, agencies have tightly circumscribed authority, and judges have few opportunities to exercise discretion. This Note argues that textualism alone will not necessarily produce these outcomes. By identifying how clarity-driven textualism departs from the bare requirements of textualism itself, this Note seeks to rescue textualism’s powerful interpretive approach from its current political entanglements.