The Purpose Error in the Modern Approach to Statutory Interpretation


  • Mark Mancini


The modern approach to statutory interpretation mandates that statutes be read with an eye toward harmonizing their text, context, and purpose. This article notes that jurists can stray from the modern approach by prioritizing abstract statutory purposes over the specific legal rules by which an act pursues these objectives, a mistake here identified as the “purpose error.” The article argues that the purpose error contradicts the principle of legislative supremacy and recent guidance by the Supreme Court. The article furthers suggests that two factors generally drive the commission of the purpose error. First, the definition of the statutory purpose at an unduly high level of abstraction. Second, the failure to qualify a statute’s primary purpose by considering other competing secondary purposes that the act also aims to achieve. The article finally submits that awareness of the “purpose error” is key to ascertaining the scope of the “making available” right under the Copyright Act — a question that will soon come before the Supreme Court.