Communicative Content and Legal Content
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
This Essay investigates a familiar set of questions about the relationship between legal texts (e.g., constitutions, statutes, opinions, orders, and contracts) and the content of the law (e.g., norms, rules, standards, doctrines, and mandates). Is the original meaning of the constitutional text binding on the Supreme Court when it develops doctrines of constitutional law? Should statutes be given their plain meaning or should judges devise statutory constructions that depart from the text to serve a purpose? What role should default rules play in the interpretation and construction of contracts? This Essay makes two moves that can help lawyers and legal theorists answer these questions. First, there is a fundamental conceptual distinction between "communicative content" (the linguistic meaning communicated by a legal text in context) and "legal content" (the doctrines of the legal rules associated with a text). Second, the relationship between communicative content and legal content varies with context; different kinds of legal texts produce different relationships between linguistic meaning and legal rules.