A última tentação dos juízes

O blog de lingüística (com trema, por favor) Johnson, da revista The Economist, publicou um interessante post sobre o último livro do Juiz Antonin Scalia, da Suprema Corte americana, em parceria com o editor do Black’s Law Dictionary, Bryan Garner, chamado “Reading Law” (Lendo o Direito, numa tradução livre). O livro trata da tentação dos juízes em interpretar a Lei de acordo com suas crenças pessoais, de modo que o resultado seja encaminhado para aquele mais, por assim dizer, querido pelo magistrado. Reproduzo o texto do blog integralmente abaixo. Notem que a preocupação dos americanos é perfeitamente válida para qualquer sistema jurídico.


STATUTORY interpretation is not, on its face, sexy. But Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Bryan Garner, a lexicographer and editor of Black’s Law Dictionary, try their best. Their “Reading Law“, published in June, is a guide for lawyers and judges on how to read a text. The book is not only a love letter to textualism, Mr Scalia’s preferred theory of interpretation. It is also a sharp brief against those who would seek to indiscriminately inject arguments of public policy and personal politics into their analysis of a static text. The result is engaging; the theoretical aspects of statutory interpretation are still unsexy, of course, but here they are highly readable.

For lawyers, the term “statutory interpretation” connotes occasional necessary evil: the deliberate, sometimes unscrupulous, massaging of the text of a law to serve a client. (Messrs Scalia and Garner acknowledge this: “That is [lawyers’] job: to inject doubt when it is in their clients’ interest.”) For judges, interpreting a statute is stickier. The result of their analysis, a judicial opinion, is permanent. In contrast, lawyers’ impassioned arguments, even if they are recorded, do not serve any future legal purpose. And lawyers are forgiven for drawing bizarre interpretive arguments from the ether to serve their cause. Judges are not so easily relieved. Strict, dispassionate adherence to the plain meaning of the text could produce results anathema to the judge’s own political views. For tenured judges insulated from popular reproach, there is a temptation to look away from the text to support a particular outcome. Messrs Scalia and Garner want to end this temptation.

Mr Scalia, who is known (and maligned by the left) for his textualist approach, is remarkably measured in this book—a consequence, perhaps, of being paired with Mr Garner, a sharp legal mind with different political affiliations. Messrs Scalia and Garner insist that a fair-reading textualist approach produces results divorced from particular politics. In other words, the same judge adhering to these canons of interpretation may one day produce an opinion considered “liberal”, and the next day a “conservative” opinion. In their support, the authors note that there is far more agreement in the Supreme Court and appellate courts than disagreement. But Mr Scalia, too, adopts a sort of “do as I say, not as I do” approach to the canons of interpretation. In the preface, he asks the reader to ignore the past and future judicial opinions of Scalia, J., that contradict the theoretical advice given by Scalia, Academic.

Statutory interpretation overlaps both linguistic analysis and literary analysis. Two examples: In a broad sense, textualism (the approach advocated in “Reading Law”) and its alternatives, purposivism and consequentialism (broadly, non-textualism), can be compared with prescriptivist and descriptivist approaches to language interpretation. And the authors write that nontextualism at its worst can be compared with eisegesis, the ugly stepsister of literary criticism.

But more on all this later. In my next few posts, I’ll be looking at those relationships in the context of Messrs Scalia and Garner’s book.

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