How to Use Legislative History to Teach Grammar

Anyone teaching the importance of legislative history in legal research need only point to a single punctuation mark: the mighty comma.  As a disclaimer, I strive to put my years of Latin classes to good use, but do not profess to be punctuationally-perfect.  (Interestingly, the Romans did not use modern punctuation, but I digress…)   One thing I do know, however, is that other people’s grammatical shortcomings sure can wreak a lot of havoc… making them a great teaching tool.

This past week, I was researching a state statute that, among many other things, imposed conditions on persons who had committed a “felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  At first blush, one would read this to mean that the conditions apply to persons involved in domestic violence felonies and misdemeanors.  Get this:  That provision actually governs anyone who commits either a “felony” or a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  In other words, we should really be reading a comma into the statute between “felony” and “misdemeanor” where the legislators neglected to put one!

Uncovering the latent comma was not easy.  News articles referred to the imposition of the conditions on felons, but without citing the supporting statutory clause.  Secondary sources referred to conditions emanating from the “domestic violence clause” of the statute, failing to illuminate that the clause also covers all felonies.  Case law cited the statute as creating certain conditions, but decided matters on other grounds.

The best recourse was to trace the historical progression of the clause, which I was able to do through older versions of the statute and the legislators’ own analysis.  Earlier iterations made no reference to domestic violence whatsoever, as the clause originally pertained to persons who had committed any felony.  Years later, the legislature added “or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” but failed to demarcate this clause with a comma that would have resolved ambiguity.  If the legislators had simply written “any felony, or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” I would have spent fifteen minutes on a project that instead took five hours!  (Note:  I do not require legislators to bold, italicize, or underscore the comma; any font or stylization will do!)

Do you have any grammar-related teachable moments you’d like to share?  We’d love to hear them and pass them along to our classes.  To that end, I particularly enjoyed Prof. Susan J. Hankin’s “Statutory Interpretation in the Age of Grammatical Permissiveness:  An Object Lesson for Teaching Why Grammar Matters,” which references recent literature on the subject and also offers some great case law examples to use in class.

Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers

Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers
The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver.
http://educatingtomorrowslawyers.du.edu/

The site includes examples of innovative courses and and a respurces page with strategic plans, teaching strategies, and surveys.

From the description and press release:

“Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers” provides a platform to encourage law schools in the U.S. to showcase innovative teaching to produce more practice-ready lawyers who can better meet the needs of an evolving profession.

Rebecca Love Kourlis is the Executive Director of IAALS and a former Colorado Supreme Court justice.

“Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers leverages the Carnegie Model of learning,” Kourlis says. “Our project provides support for shared learning, innovation, ongoing measurement and collective implementation. We are very excited to launch this project to encourage new ways to train law students and to measure innovation in the years to come.”

William M. Sullivan is the Director of “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” He also is the lead author of the 2007 Carnegie Foundation report, Educating Lawyers.

“Our goal is to encourage law schools that are already committed to innovation to share what they know in a structured, collaborative place so that other law professors may discuss and develop new teaching techniques,” Sullivan says.

IAALS will manage this initiative, the first of its kind in the country. The initiative is partnering with a growing number of law schools (including Stanford Law School) in a consortium committed to innovative teaching The initiative is fully funded by IAALS, the consortium, and the University of Denver.

Martin J. Katz, Dean of the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver serves with Kourlis and Sullivan on the initiative’s Executive Committee.

“We want to help law schools integrate three sets of values or what the Carnegie Foundation calls ‘apprenticeships,'” Katz says. “They are knowledge, practice, and professionalism. We believe this initiative can change how law professors and deans, students, and ultimately the legal profession respond to our changing world.”

Professional Adjunct Instructors Association (PAIA)

Professional Adjunct Instructors Association (PAIA)

http://paiassoc.wordpress.com/

Dr. Allison Friederichs, co-founderDr. C.J. Remmo, co-founder

The site includes a “Resources” page with links to information on teaching, publishing and classroom  assessment.

From the PAIA mission statement:

The Professional Adjunct Instructors Association is a nonprofit organization founded on the principle of recognizing and enhancing the value of the adjunct instructor’s role in higher education.  We believe that many adjunct instructors possess a wealth of knowledge, experience, and passion to offer higher education institutions and their students.  PAIA exists to facilitate the processes by which institutions maximize the potential adjunct instructors bring to higher education.

PAIA is committed to teaching as an art form, care for students, and improving the adjunct-institution relationship.  Our primary focus is to provide adjunct instructors with resources to continually improve teaching and curriculum design skills with a student-oriented focus.  Additionally, PAIA is dedicated to developing strong relationships with colleges and universities to ensure that our professional adjunct members meet the high standards set forth by these institutions.

 

Article on Legal Education in Brazil

The latest issue of the Revista Jurídica Universidad de Puerto Rico has an article on reform of the legal education system in Brazil.

Legal Research in Brazil: Traps and Alternatives to Legal Formalism                                                                                               Caio Mario da Silva Pereira Neto and Paulo Todescan Lessa Mattos                                                                                          Revista Jurídica Universidad de Puerto Rico. Vol.77  No.2 (2008).

“We persistently talk of a crisis inlegal teaching in Brazil and otherLatin Ameican countries in spite of a the recent wave of innovative experiences in many institutions of the region. The diagnosis of this crisis is not new… it is possible to highlight at least two central aspects of the diagnosis: (1) an apparent incompatability between legal practices that are perceived as traditional … and the need for legal actors to be in constant transformation because of internationalization; and(2) the ostensible inefectiveness of the teaching methods employed , which are based exclusively on lectures where professors articulate abstract dogmatic concepts …”