Chad Squitieri

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This July in West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court formally recognized the “major questions doctrine.” That doctrine, which can be traced to a 1986 law review article published by then-Judge Stephen Breyer, calls on courts to consider a legal question’s “political importance” when interpreting statutes.

The major questions doctrine is a product of legal pragmatism—a theory of statutory interpretation advanced by Justice Breyer which often elevates statutory purpose and consequences over text. The doctrine is inconsistent with textualism—an interpretive theory that emphasizes statutory text, structure, and history to understand a statute as the public originally understood it. The takeaway is clear: textualists should reject Justice Breyer’s major questions doctrine.



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