Essay  |  Volume 159

Astrue v. Ratliff and the Death of Strong Purposivism

159 U. Pa. L. Rev. PENNumbra 167 (2011)

Posted on 02-2011

Essay - <i>Astrue v. Ratliff</i> and the Death of Strong Purposivism

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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