The Hon. Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, addressed a group of students, faculty and community members April 8 at the University of Richmond School of Law’s Robert R. Merhige Jr. Moot Courtroom. In a conversation with Dean Wendy Perdue, Katzmann discussed his new book, Judging Statues, which explores the approach courts should use in interpreting statutes.

“Much of what federal judges do is interpret the words of Congress,” said Katzmann. “I think we should respect Congress’ work product.” For Katzmann, that means taking a step back when considering statutes – particularly those that might include ambiguous language – to consider, “What is the purpose of the legislation?” To answer that question, judges might rely on a host of background material, such as the congressional congress committee reports.

Other judges, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, have made the case for a text-based approach to statutory understanding – one that doesn’t take into account such outside sources, but relies solely on a strict interpretation of the statutory text at hand.

The danger of the textual approach to understanding statutes, Katzmann argued, is that “we inject our own preferences … when the language is unclear.”

“When it comes to federal statues,” Katzmann added, “We should not exclude something that can be helpful to us.” And for Katzmann, that means exploring all of the different components that go into informing that statute, including the statutory structure and legislative history.

Following the conversation with Perdue, Katzmann engaged in a question-and-answer session with faculty and students.

“The legislative process is messy,” said Katzmann. “I have no illusion about the difficulty of interpretive enterprise. All I’m saying is, I don’t want to give up on it.”