NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 95, Number 2

May 2020
Articles

An Empirical Study of Statutory Interpretation in Tax Law

Jonathan H. Choi

A substantial academic literature considers how agencies should interpret statutes. But few studies have considered how agencies actually do interpret statutes, and none has empirically compared the methodologies of agencies and courts in practice. This Article conducts such a comparison, using a newly created dataset of all Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publications ever released, along with an existing dataset of court decisions. It applies natural language processing, machine learning, and regression analysis to map methodological trends and to test whether particular authorities have developed unique cultures of statutory interpretation. 

It finds that, over time, the IRS has increasingly made rules on normative policy grounds (like fairness and efficiency) rather than merely producing rules based on the “best reading” of the relevant statute (under any interpretive theory, like purposivism or textualism). Moreover, when the IRS does focus on the statute, it has grown much more purposivist over time. In contrast, the Tax Court has not grown more normative and has followed the same trend toward textualism as most other courts. But although the Tax Court has become more broadly textualist, it prioritizes different interpretive tools than other courts, like Chevron deference and holistic-textual canons of interpretation. This suggests that each authority adopts its own flavor of textualism or purposivism. 

These findings complicate the literature on tax exceptionalism and the judicial nature of the Tax Court. They also inform ongoing debates about judicial deference and the future of doctrines like Chevron and Skidmore deference. Most broadly, they provide an empirical counterpoint to the existing theoretical literature on statutory interpretation by agencies. 

Litigation as Parenting

Lisa V. Martin

Children have legal rights. Yet, children typically lack the legal capacity to represent their interests in courts. When federal courts are presented with children’s claims, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require courts to ensure that children’s legal interests are adequately protected. To do so, courts decide who can speak and make decisions for the child within the litigation. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c) maps out a loose process for addressing these concerns but fails to fully account for a critical factor in protecting child litigants: the decisionmaking rights of parents. 

Because parents have constitutionally protected authority to make important decisions for their children, litigation brought on a child’s behalf presents a collision of rights and obligations between parents, children, and “the state,” here, the federal courts. Court doctrine interpreting Rule 17(c) is tangled and inconsistent and fails to offer clear guidance regarding what preference, if any, parents should have to represent their children’s interests in litigation. This Article proposes for the first time that constitutional doctrine establishing parents’ protected decisionmaking authority should make parents the default representatives for their children in federal civil litigation. The Article presents an account of court practices and an analytical framework to guide courts’ application of Rule 17(c), which implements the general constitutional rule of parent priority while upholding the courts’ responsibility to protect children’s interests. 

Should Law Subsidize Driving?

Gregory H. Shill

A century ago, captains of industry and their allies in government launched a social experiment in urban America: the abandonment of mass transit in favor of a new personal technology, the private automobile. Decades of investment in this shift have created a car-centric landscape with Dickensian consequences. In the United States, motor vehicles are now the leading killer of children and the top producer of greenhouse gases. Each year, they rack up trillions of dollars in direct and indirect costs and claim nearly 100,000 American lives via crashes and pollution, with the most vulnerable paying a disproportionate price. The appeal of the car’s convenience and the failure to effectively manage it has created a public health catastrophe. Many of the automobile’s social costs originate in individual preferences, but an overlooked amount is encouraged—indeed enforced—by law. Yes, the United States is car-dependent by choice. But it is also car-dependent by law. This Article conceptualizes this problem and offers a way out. It begins by identifying a submerged, disconnected system of rules that furnish indirect yet extravagant subsidies to driving. These subsidies lower the price of driving by comprehensively reassigning its costs to non-drivers and society at large. They are found in every field of law, from traffic law to land use regulation to tax, tort, and environmental law. Law’s role is not primary, and at times it is even constructive. But where it is destructive, it is uniquely so: Law not only inflames a public health crisis but legitimizes it, ensuring the continuing dominance of the car. The Article urges a reorientation of law away from this system of automobile supremacy in favor of consensus social priorities, such as health, prosperity, and equity. 

Notes

Taking Congruence and Proportionality Seriously

Jeremy W. Brinster

Advocates are hoping that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will soon be outlawed under Title VII. To this end, the Supreme Court is currently considering whether Title VII already prohibits those forms of discrimination, and legislators have advanced the Equality Act, a new bill that would explicitly protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. These debates, however, typically overlook a critical question: Does Congress actually have the authority to hold state governments accountable for discriminating against LGBT workers? This Note argues that Congress does. While Congress exercises its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment under the constraints of the Court’s “congruence and proportionality” standard, none of the limitations set by the Court foreclose the Equality Act’s provisions imposing liability on state employers. If the Court takes congruence and proportionality seriously, those provisions should stand. This Note thus challenges the conventional wisdom that LGBT individuals are beyond Congress’s power to protect merely because the Court does not formally review anti-LGBT discrimination under heightened scrutiny. It seeks to account for the Court’s clear concern with state action rooted in animus, which indicates that classifications targeting LGBT individuals are subject to careful judicial review. Moreover, it recasts the Court’s precedents on congressional enforcement, emphasizing that the legislative record and statutory scope, rather than the applicable standard of review, determine the validity of the statute in question. Under these clarified standards, the Equality Act emerges as appropriate enforcement legislation.