22 Nov 2009
Words, Damned Words, and Legalese

Is legalese identical or similar to statistics?

A Texas constitutional amendment from 2005 which says

SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 32 to read as follows:
Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

has regained some of its former notoriety in the attorney general race: “Texas marriages in legal limbo because of constitutional amendment, candidate says“.

Language Log’s Mark Liberman provokes an interesting discussion of legal interpretation in “Does marriage exist in Texas?“:

As I wrote in 2005, this seems to be an interesting case for theories of legal interpretation, since on one hand, the intent of the drafters and supporters of the amendment is clear; but on the other hand, as Ms. Radnofsky says, “You do not have to have a fancy law degree to read this and understand what it plainly says.”

My first thought was similar to that of commenter Dan T

if the amendment in question were on the subject of illegal drugs, and section (a) said “Narcotics are defined for the purpose of Texas law as drugs which [some description of their properties and effects]”, and (b) said that anything identical or similar to narcotics was not to be made legal by the state or any of its subdivisions, then wouldn’t it be clear that the intent and effect was to ensure the continued illegality of narcotics (as defined therein) and anything “similar” (in some ill-specified way)?

But, IANAL, so I’m easily confused as to when intent trumps literal text and vice versa.

Category: Life-Society
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