Legislative intent is a fiction. Courts and scholars accept this, by and large. As this Article shows, however, both are confused as to why legislative intent is a fiction and as to what this fiction entails.
This Article first argues that the standard explanation—that Congress is a “they,” not an “it”—rests on an unduly simple conception of shared agency. Drawing from contemporary scholarship in the philosophy of action, it contends that Congress has no collective intention, not because of difficulties in aggregating the intentions of individual members, but rather because Congress lacks the sort of delegatory structure that one finds in, for example, a corporation.
Second, this Article argues that—contrary to a recent, influential wave of scholarship—the fictional nature of legislative intent leaves interpreters of legislation with little reason to care about the fine details of legislative process. It is a platitude that legislative text must be interpreted in “context.” Context, however, consists of information salient to author and audience alike. This basic insight from the philosophy of language necessitates what this Article calls the “conversation” model of interpretation. Legislation is written by legislators for those tasked with administering the law—for example, courts and agencies—and those on whom the law operates—for example, citizens. Almost any interpreter thus occupies the position of conversational participant, reading legislative text in a context consisting of information salient both to members of Congress and to citizens (as well as agencies, courts, etc.).
The conversation model displaces what this Article calls the “eavesdropping” model of interpretation—the prevailing paradigm among both courts and scholars. When asking what sources of information an interpreter should consider, courts and scholars have reliably privileged the epistemic position of members of Congress. The result is that legislation is erroneously treated as having been written by legislators exclusively for other legislators. This tendency is plainest in recent scholarship urging greater attention to legislative process—the nuances of which are of high salience to legislators but plainly not to citizens.
Public health experts agree that sexual violence constitutes a significant public health issue. Yet criminal law dominates rape law almost completely, with public health law playing at best a small supporting role. Recent civil law developments, such as university disciplinary proceedings, similarly fixate on how best to find and penalize perpetrators. As a result, rape law continues to spin its wheels in the same arguments and obstacles.
This Article argues that, without broader cultural changes, criminal law faces a double bind: rape laws will either be ineffective or neglect the importance of individual culpability. Public health law provides more promising terrain for rape prevention because it is a strong legal framework that can engage the complex causes of rape, including the social norms that promote sexual aggression. While criminal law can only punish bad behavior, public health interventions can use the more effective prevention strategy of promoting positive behaviors and relationships. They can also address the myriad sexual behaviors and social determinants that increase the risk of rape but are outside the scope of criminal law. Perhaps most importantly, public health law relies on evidence-based interventions and the expertise of public health authorities to ensure that laws and policies are effective.
Transforming rape law in this way provides a framework for legal feminism to undertake the unmet challenge of “theorizing yes,” that is, moving beyond how to protect women’s right to refuse sex and toward promoting and exploring positive models of sex. Criminal law is simply incapable of meeting this challenge because it concerns only what sex should not be. A public health framework can give the law a richer role in addressing the full spectrum of sexual attitudes and behaviors.
The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) grants an artist the broad power to “prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to [the artist’s] honor or reputation.” This right is significantly circumscribed, however, by VARA’s public-presentation exception, which states that a modification “which is the result . . . of the public presentation, including lighting and placement, of the work is not a destruction, distortion, mutilation, or other modification” that would otherwise violate VARA.
This Note argues that the public-presentation exception is injudicious in light of the rise of the contemporary art movement. Much more than artists of earlier movements, contemporary artists rely on precise arrangement of elements and engagement with the physical space surrounding these elements in the creation of a work of art. Yet it is control over those critical contextual elements, arguably the most critical element of a contemporary work, that VARA explicitly denies to the contemporary artist. The public-presentation exception threatens more than just the personal interests of artists—a greater societal interest in preserving authentic cultural heritage for future generations is continually undermined as long as the public-presentation exception remains codified in VARA. Lasting protection of the integrity of works of contemporary art thus requires the elimination of the public-presentation exception.
In 2002, the Boston Globe published a report exposing child sex abuse by priests and a cover-up by supervisory priests. Supervisory priests—church officials who supervise lower-ranking priests—concealed reports of sexual abuse by lower-ranking priests and created substantial risks of sexual abuse to children. Prosecutors tried to hold supervisory priests accountable by turning to statutes that either did not capture the moral culpability of priests, like statutes prohibiting obstruction of justice or contributing to the delinquency of a minor; or that did not legally encompass their misconduct, like child-endangerment statutes. Child endangerment captures the moral culpability of supervisory priests’ misconduct, but child-endangerment statutes based on the Model Penal Code (MPC) do not legally cover supervisory priests or their acts. Though supervisory priests chose to suppress reports of child sex abuse, prosecutors cannot constitutionally shoehorn misconduct into statutes—like child endangerment—that were never before interpreted to apply to individuals like supervisory priests. Instead of breaching the supervisory priests’ constitutionally guaranteed notice that their conduct constituted child endangerment, prosecutors should encourage state legislatures to: 1) extend statutes of limitations for crimes against minors and include clergy as mandatory reporters; 2) amend child-endangerment statutes to include supervisory priests and those similarly situated; and 3) criminalize the reckless creation of a substantial risk of child sex abuse, and the reckless failure to alleviate that risk when there is a duty to do so. Absent legislative action, prosecutors should use statutes that represent a lesser degree of moral culpability, such as contributing to the delinquency of a minor or mandatory-reporter statutes. Enacting statutes that both legally encompass and adequately reflect the blameworthiness of supervisory priests will hopefully deter similar misconduct and protect children from sex abuse in institutional settings.