Friday, January 25, 2013

Spinach, Soccer, Shakespeare, and Statutory Interpretation

Looking at the list that comprises this post’s title, you might feel inclined to burst into song: “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. . . .” But let me explain—starting with the easy ones. Spinach, soccer, and Shakespeare, aside from starting with the letter “s,” are all things that are perceived as being good for a person—in spite of, or because of, their being a tad difficult. Therefore, parents routinely feel obliged to foist them upon their children. But even when these parental efforts produce a positive response in the kiddos, such that they actually like the spinach, enjoy playing soccer, or get into iambic pentameter, the efforts don’t seem to produce life-long passions in most. Some kids never recover from the mandatory mouthfuls of mushy spinach; not enough soccer-playing youths turn into adult soccer enthusiasts to keep many professional organizations afloat in this country; and most kids who enjoy Shakespeare don’t become adults who make a habit of seeking out productions of the Bard’s work. And that is a shame.
As for statutory construction, it is something that is also difficult, most would agree. (Mostly because much legislative drafting is a horror show of dry obfuscation.) And although most would probably not agree, I suggest that the practice of construing statutes is good for a person. It makes those who are or would be lawyers see the importance of word choice, of attention to detail, of grammatical structure, of context, and of appreciating the fecundity of the English language.
You, astute reader, even if you agree with the statements articulated in the above paragraph, recognize that I did not suggest that statutory interpretation is an activity to which parents generally feel compelled to expose their offspring. Putting aside that one might be able to find some Asian households were such a recreation is part of the Saturday routine, I will admit: I have never heard of parents who believe that the difficult, yet salutary, effects of statutory interpretation are such that their children should be introduced to it at a young age. And that is a shame.
Just as I have had great fun forcing my daughter to memorize Shakespearean sonnets and soliloquies, perhaps I should try sitting her down and introducing her to the joys of undertaking a close reading of a few of the myriad rules and regulations that inform or existence mostly without us even thinking about them—and certainly without us reading the rules’ actual texts. For instance, she might enjoy learning that, under Texas law, she is currently “under a legal disability” per Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code § 16.001(a), which prevents her from doing all sorts of things that she might be itching to do, like enter into a contract to buy a lifetime supply of iTunes. And this “disability” of hers arises from her being “younger than 18 years of age,” and this “disability” cannot be cured “regardless of whether [she] is married” at some shockingly young age like they used to do in the olden days. Id. § 16.001(a)(1). And even once she (or anyone) turns 18, if she proves to be of “unsound mind,” she will still be considered “legally disabled.” Id. § 16.001(a)(2). And to know what the state of Texas means by the term “unsound mind,” we would have to look to yet another statutory provision and a whole bunch of judicial opinions interpreting that concept so as to discern useful patterns. What fun! I can’t wait to get started.
On second thought, perhaps I’ll just stick with trying to convince her to eat green things, run around outside, and memorize bits of Shakespeare like this one about Cleopatra’s barge to which she has been oddly resistant, despite my sense that she has more than a few things in common with that beautiful queen:
The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne, 
Burn’d on the water; the poop was beaten gold, 
Purple the sails, and so perfumed, that        
The winds were love-sick with them, the oars were silver, 
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made 
The water which they beat to follow faster, 
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person, 
It beggar’d all description; she did lie        
In her pavilion,—cloth-of-gold of tissue,— 
O’er-picturing that Venus where we see 
The fancy outwork nature; on each side her 
Stood pretty-dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, 
With divers-colour’d fans, whose wind did seem        
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool, 
And what they undid did.
Antony and Cleopatra, II.2.

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