Skip to content
  • Type:
    Categories:
    Sub-Categories:

    With textualism’s ascendancy, courts increasingly invoke the canon to assume “ordinary meaning” unless the context indicates otherwise and the rule to enforce “plain meaning” regardless of extratextual considerations. Yet the relationship between ordinary meaning and plain meaning can become confused in practice. Courts use the terms interchangeably, and they conflate them doctrinally. Ordinary meaning and plain meaning are distinct. Ordinary meaning is what the text would convey to a reasonable English user in the context of everyday communication. Plain meaning refers to a judgment that whatever the text conveys in context is clear from the text. Thus, a term’s ordinary meaning is also its plain meaning only when it is clear from how the term is used in the statute that its context is ordinary, as opposed to technical. Courts conflate the two, however, when they assume ordinary meaning under the ordinary meaning canon and then conclude that they are therefore bound to enforce that meaning under the plain meaning rule. As a result, they end interpretation prematurely, excluding extratextual aids that might well show that the ordinary meaning assumption should give way. This Article is the first to investigate the relationship between ordinary meaning and plain meaning. It clarifies their differences, identifies the ways in which they are conflated, and evaluates when they should converge. For textualists, greater clarity on this score illuminates when and how to bring ordinary meaning and plain meaning together in a principled manner. For methodological pluralists, understanding the gap between ordinary meaning and plain meaning opens opportunities to argue beyond the text in our increasingly textualist world.

  • Type:
    Categories:
    Sub-Categories:

    Links:

    In 1862, Lincoln broke with longstanding US policy by agreeing with Britain to establish international courts to suppress the Atlantic slave trade. Historians have previously neglected these courts because the illicit trade’s decline in the 1860s resulted in empty dockets. This article, however, shows how the two American commissioners on the court at Freetown took up a broader intervention in Africa based in part on British imperial practices that the commissioners viewed as consistent with federal policies back home. Most notably, they proposed a treaty system with African nations that would exchange American protection, trade, and “civilizing” reforms for commitments to end slavery and its trade. This lost international history of the Civil War thus extends the history of American antislavery expansionism in West Africa into the Civil War period and captures a revealing vision of American expansion during the war beyond the consolidation of a continental empire.

  • Type:
    Categories:
    Sub-Categories: