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. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  3. Don't believe me, listen to Pacino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6bC9w9cH-M

  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  5. Attorney? Really? Or is it former attorney? Status with the Ind St Ct? Status with federal court, with SCOTUS? This is a legal newspaper, or should I look elsewhere?

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