Look it up, lawmakers

September 22, 2008
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From Indiana Lawyer reporter Michael Hoskins:

We look at Indiana’s appellate decisions every day. Frequently, a legal issue is raised about an ambiguous federal or state statute where words aren’t defined and the courts must address what the legislative intent could be for those words and statutes.

The issue came up in a Court of Appeals case, which we wrote a story about today, that examined the undefined meaning of the word “repair” in the state mechanic’s lien statute. Judges didn’t have a definition in the law to work with, so they consulted Webster’s – a common practice that often sees jurists consulting Black’s Law Dictionary and others. It happens often, with cases hinging on definitions of simple words such as “shall.” We’ve seen it in recent years on terms such as “proceeds” in the federal money-laundering statute or “legal incidents of marriage” as lawmakers wrestled over a same-sex marriage ban.

One has to wonder if lawmakers think to look at a dictionary when crafting legislation that might become law. We have lawyers at the Statehouse who, you’d think, would know better and be able to foresee potential legal battles over vague wording. But obviously if there are some who question the language and lack of definition, they aren’t able to convince their colleagues before the final passage. It seems like a dictionary could solve many of the legal battles we see regularly – maybe that would be a handy tool lawmakers could be given when taking their oaths of office.
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  1. Major social engineering imposed by judicial order well in advance of democratic change, has been the story of the whole post ww2 period. Contraception, desegregation, abortion, gay marriage: all rammed down the throats of Americans who didn't vote to change existing laws on any such thing, by the unelected lifetime tenure Supreme court heirarchs. Maybe people came to accept those things once imposed upon them, but, that's accommodation not acceptance; and surely not democracy. So let's quit lying to the kids telling them this is a democracy. Some sort of oligarchy, but no democracy that's for sure, and it never was. A bourgeois republic from day one.

  2. JD Massur, yes, brings to mind a similar stand at a Texas Mission in 1836. Or Vladivostok in 1918. As you seemingly gloat, to the victors go the spoils ... let the looting begin, right?

  3. I always wondered why high fence deer hunting was frowned upon? I guess you need to keep the population steady. If you don't, no one can enjoy hunting! Thanks for the post! Fence

  4. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  5. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

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