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THE WRITTEN LAWS CLASSIFIED AND EXPLAINED.
$1. Misapprehensions.- On this subject of the interpretation of statutes, misapprehensions more wide and injurious prevail in the profession than on almost any other in the entire law. It is often assumed to proceed without rules, and to present views changing, as in a kaleidoscope, with every legislative turn in the enactment of a new statute. But,
§ 2. Doctrines stable.- In truth, statutory interpretation is governed as absolutely by rules as anything else in the law. And the rules are of common-law origin. In large part they adhere to the subject itself, in whose very nature they dwell, so that even legislation cannot cast them off. A few of them have, in England and some of our states, been legislated upon. But legislation on them is less extensive than on most other legal subjects. The making of a new statute no more changes a rule of interpretation than does the deciding of a new issue in a court. So that, on the whole, the rules of statutory interpretation are specially stable.
$ 3. Importance of subject.— In practical importance there is no legal subject which approaches this. No lawyer can advise a client an hour but some question of the interpretation of a statute will, directly or indirectly, come up for decision. It may not seem difficult; yet blunders without end are constantly being made, in questions of this class, where the familiar rules of interpretation were either unknown to or overlooked by the adviser. And more causes are lost in court from practitioners stumbling on these questions than on any other. For the judges are but lawyers on the bench, and they need'specially to be guarded against this class of mistake.
84. Relations of subject. This subject is related to some others of prime importance; deriving help from them, and in turn imparting it to them. Foremost of these is the
Interpretation of private writings.— A statute is a writing, equally with a will or a contract. And to a considerable extent the rules for the one class are those also for the other. But there are differences rendering it unsafe to follow the rules interchangeably, except where appearing in connection with their reasons. Again,
Science of entire law.— Statutory interpretation, more than any other one legal subject, interweaves itself with the science and reasons of the entire law. A new statutory provision, cast into a body of written and unwritten laws, is not altogether unlike a drop of coloring matter to a pail of water. Not so fully, yet to a considerable extent, it changes the hue of the whole body; and how far and where it works, the change can be seen only by him who comprehends the relations of the parts, and discerns bow each particle acts upon and governs and is governed by the others. Further to explain,-
§ 5. Nature of statute,- Every statute operates to modify or confirm something in the law which existed before. No statute is written, so to speak, upon a blank in the institutions of society. No such blank exists or can exist. A particular thing is to-day either lawful or unlawful. It can fill no middle space — no blank — between the two. If, for example, it is lawful, a statute may make it unlawful, either generally or under specified circumstances, or it may settle a supposed doubt of its lawfulness. In every case it is a thread of woof woven into a warp which before existed. It is never to be contemplated as a thing alone, but always as a part of a harmonious whole. Hence,
$ 6. Knowledge of prior law.- Whatever may be the rules of interpretation, and however known, obviously no statute can be understood except by him who understands the prior law. Not, therefore, to theorize, but for practical help, persons
1 Crim. Law, I, SS 5-7.