Document Type



Judges have been required to interpret statutes for as long as there have been legislative enactments. To perform this task, courts have adopted various canons to guide their analytical paths. One of these judicially-created canons, the plain meaning rule, has been subjected to praise as an indication of the court's subordination to legislative will and criticism as wooden and inadequate to the task of implementing legislative intent. Until mid-twentieth century, the debate about the efficacy of the plain meaning rule largely took place in opinion writing and legal scholarship. But as the debate has shifted to a broader discussion of the role of the court in the legislative process, Connecticut and seven sister states' legislatures have joined the fray to assert a legislative primacy in statutory interpretation. In 2004, the Connecticut Supreme Court in State v. Courchesne, was required to interpret a portion of the State’s death penalty statute, and, even though unnecessary to its holding, the court expressly abandoned the plain meaning rule in favor of a purposive approach. In the process, the court formulated a strict version of the rule unlike its recent application in either Connecticut or U.S. Supreme Court decisions and postulated the canon as a rule of law. In quick order, the Connecticut General Assembly enacted a plain meaning rule akin to the textualism espoused by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. As a consequence of this legislative response, Connecticut judges are now constrained by a legislative mandate forbidding judges from consulting beyond the facially plain and unambiguous text of statutes. Whether this legislative response to Courchesne will be an aid to sound statutory interpretation in Connecticut remains to be seen.