In Astrue v. Ratliff and the Death
of Strong Purposivism, Frederick Liu argues that the Supreme Court's
recent decision interpreting the Equal Access to Justice Act has conclusively
demonstrated the victory of textualists over purposivists in the war
of statutory interpretation. In Astrue v. Ratliff, decided
last Term, Justice Thomas's opinion for a unanimous Court looked to
the plain meaning of the terms “prevailing party” and “award”
in holding that when a winning litigant owes a preexisting debt to the
government, any fee award to that litigant may not be given to the attorney
in lieu of satisfying that debt. To Mr. Liu, both the Court's
reasoning and Justice Sotomayor's concurrence in Ratliff demonstrate
a consensus that in spite of any evident congressional purpose to the
contrary, the clear text of the statute must govern its interpretation.
Liu acknowledges that conflicts remain over the proper approach to an
ambiguous text, but that Ratliff
signals the death knell of “strong” purposivism and that for now,
the text rules.
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