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Searching for Law in All the Wrong Places

By Evan C. Zoldan. Full Text.

In The Corpus and the Critics, Lee & Mouritsen reaffirm their commitment to interpreting legal language using corpus linguistics techniques. Importantly, they also acknowledge that it is not always appropriate to search for the meaning of statutory language in a general corpus—that is, a corpus that includes a variety of types of texts. They attempt to soften the force of this concession by arguing that a corpus of legislative history would allow an interpreter to learn how statutory terms are used in legal texts. This Essay responds to Lee & Mouritsen by identifying why a corpus of legislative history will not help them accomplish their goal. Moreover, by holding out the promise of a corpus of legislative history, Lee & Mouritsen raise an all-important preliminary question: how should an interpreter choose the correct corpus to search? This Essay explains why Lee & Mouritsen’s suggestions about how to choose a corpus are inconsistent and unsatisfying.