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INTERPRETATION AND CONSTRUCTION.
§ 234. The intent of a statute is the § 256. Change of phraseology of
235. Its ascertainment the object of interpretation.
236. Interpretation and construction compared.
237. Intent first to be sought in language of statute itself. 238. If intent plainly expressed it is to be followed without further inquiry.
239. The intention to be ascertained from entire statute.
240. General intent of statute key
to meaning of the parts. 245. The flexibility of words and clauses to harmonize with the general intent.
246. Literal sense of words not controlling.
247. Interpretation of words and phrases.
248. They should be construed as they are generally understood.
249. How general words construed. 250. Words having popular and technical meaning.
253. Common-law words.
255. Statutory use of words.
If a statute is
§ 234. The intent of a statute is the law. valid it is to have effect according to the purpose and intent of the law-maker. The intent is the vital part, the essence of the law. This is the intention embodied and expressed in
1 Phillips v. Pope's Heirs, 10 B. Mon. 172; Winslow v. Kimball, 25 Me. 493; Leoni v. Taylor, 20 Mich. 148; Mason v. Rogers, 4 Litt. 377; Stevens v. Fas
sett, 27 Me. 266; Reynolds v. Holland, 35 Ark. 56; Ogden v. Strong, 2 Paine, 584; Milburn v. State, 1 Md. 17; Green v. State, 59 id. 123; Watson v.
the statute. A legislative intention to be efficient as law must be set forth in a statute; it is therefore a written law. How the intention is to be ascertained is only answered by the principles and rules of exposition. If a statute is plain, certain and unambiguous, so that no doubt arises from its own terms as to its scope and meaning, a bare reading suffices; then interpretation is needless. And where the intention of a statute has been ascertained by the application of the rules of interpretation, they have served their purpose, for all such rules are intended to reach that intent.3
The sole authority of the legislature to make laws is the foundation of the principle that courts of justice are bound to give effect to its intention. When that is plain and palpable they must follow it implicitly. The rules of construction with which the books abound apply only where the words used are of doubtful import; they are only so many lights to assist the courts in arriving with more accuracy at the true interpretation of the intention. This is true whether the statute be public or private, general or special, remedial or penal. These rules are a part of the law of the land equally with the statutes themselves, and not much less important. The function of such interpretation unrestrained by settled rules would in
Hoge, 7 Yerg. 344; Canal Co. v. R. R. Co. 4 Gill & J. 1; Jackson v. Collins, 3 Cow. 89; Jackson v. Thurman, 6 John. 322; Crocker v. Crane, 21 Wend. 211; Murray v. R. R. Co. 4 Keyes, 274; McInery v. Galveston, 58 Tex. 334; Atkins v. Disintegrating Co. 18 Wall. 272, 301; United States v. Rhodes, 1 Abb. (U. S.) at p. 36; Eyston v. Studd, 2 Plowd. 465; Palms v. Shawano Co. 61 Wis. 211.
1 Barker v. Esty, 19 Vt. 131, 138; Watson v. Hoge, 7 Yerg. 344; Swift v. Luce, 27 Me. 285.
2 United States v. Hartwell, 6 Wall. 395; Ogden v. Strong, 2 Paine, 584; United States v. Wiltberger, 5 Wheat. 95; Denton v. Reading, 22 La. Ann. 607; Fitzpatrick v. Gebhart, 7 Kan. 35; McCluskey v. Cromwell, 11 N. Y. 601; People v. Schoonmaker, 63
Barb. 44; Pillow v. Bushnell, 5 Barb. 156; Coffin v. Rich, 45 Me. 507; Sneed v. Commonwealth, 6 Dana, 339; Cearfoss v. State, 42 Md. 406; Beall v. Harwood, 2 Har. & J. 167; Koch v. Bridges, 54 Miss. 247; Learned v. Corley, 43 Miss. C89; Ruggles v. Illinois, 108 U. S. 526; Sussex Peerage, 11 Cl. & Fin. 143; Water Commissioners v. Brewster, 42 N. J. L. 125; Rudderow v. State, 31 id. 512; Vattel, b. 2, sec. 363; Rex v. Hodnett, 1 T. R. 96.
3 Parsons v. Circuit Judge, 37 Mich. 287; New Orleans, etc. R. R. Co. v. Hemp hill, 35 Miss. 17; Ezekiel v. Dixon, 3 Ga. 151; Russell v. Farquhar, 55 Tex. 359; McCluskey v. Cromwell, 11 N. Y. 601.
+ State v. Stephenson, 2 Bailey, 334.
troduce great uncertainty, and would involve a power virtually legislative. When a doubt arises upon the construction of the words it is the duty of the court to remove the doubt by deciding it; and when the court has given its decision, the point can no longer be considered doubtful.2
§ 235. To find out the intent the object of all interpretation. It is the intent of the law that is to be ascertained, and the courts do not substitute their views of what is just or expedient. Courts are not at liberty to speculate upon the intentions of the legislature where the words are clear, and to construe an act upon their own notions of what ought to have been enacted. The wisdom of a statute is not a judicial question; nor can courts correct what they may deem excesses or omissions in legislation, or relieve against the occasionally harsh operation of statutory provisions without danger of doing more mischief than good."
§ 236. Interpretation and construction compared.- Dr. Lieber defines interpretation as "the art of finding out the true sense of any form of words; that is, the sense which their author intended to convey, and of enabling others to derive from them the same idea which the author intended to convey."" He uses this word in a sense distinct from construction. These words, however, are very generally used interchangeably and as practically synonymous. The literal interpretation of a statute is finding out its true sense according to Dr. Lieber's defi
1 Spencer v. State, 5 Ind. 45. See Whart. Com. on Am. Law, §§ 330, 604. 2 Bell v. Holtby, L. R. 15 Eq. 178. 3 Hadden v. Collector, 5 Wall. 107; State v. Clarke, 54 Mo. 17, 36; Jewell v. Weed, 18 Minn. 272; Municipal Building Society v. Kent, L. R. 9 App. Cas. 273; Douglass v. Chosen Freeholders, 38 N. J. L. 212, 216; Fordyce v. Bridges, 1 H. L. Cas. 1.
7 Hermeneutics, p. 11.
8 He says: "Construction is the drawing of conclusions respecting subjects that lie beyond the direct expression of the text, from elements known from and given in the text. Conclusions which are in the spirit though not in the letter of the text." Hermeneutics, 44. And again he says: "In the most general adaptaYork, etc. R'y Co. v. The Queen, 1 tion of the term, construction signiE. & B. 858, 864.
5 Id.; Reithmiller v. People, 44 Mich. 280; Sheley v. Detroit, 45 id. 431.
6 Bronson, J., in Waller v. Harris, 20 Wend. 562; State v. Heman, 70 Mo. 441.
fies the representing of an entire whole from given elements by just conclusions. Thus, it is said, a few actions may sometimes suffice to construe the whole character of a man." Id. 49.
nition-by making the statute its own expositor. If the true sense can thus be discovered, there is no resort to construction.' The certainty of the law is next in importance to its justice. And if the legislature has expressed its intention in the law itself, with certainty, it is not admissible to depart from that intention on any extraneous consideration or theory of construction. Very strong expressions have been used by the courts to emphasize the principle that they are to derive their knowledge of the legislative intention from the words or language of the statute itself which the legislature has used to express it, if a knowledge of it can be so derived.3
§ 237. Intent first to be sought in language of statute itself." It is beyond question the duty of courts in construing statutes to give effect to the intent of the law-making power, and seek for that intent in every legitimate way. But
first of all in the words and language employed; and if the words are free from ambiguity and doubt, and express plainly, clearly and distinctly the sense of the framers of the instrument, there is no occasion to resort to other means of interpretation. It is not allowable to interpret what has no need of interpretation." The statute itself furnishes the best
1 Cearfoss v. State, 42 Md. 403, 406. 2 Id.; Johnson v. Railroad Co. 49 N. Y. 455: Alexander v. Worthington, 5 Md. 471; United States v. Ragsdale, Hempst. 497.
3 Denn v. Reid, 10 Pet. 524; Watson v. Hoge, 7 Yerg. 344; McCluskey v. Cromwell, 11 N. Y. 601; Coffin v. Rich, 45 Me. 507; Hoyt v. Commissioners of Taxes, 23 N. Y. 224; Bennett v. Worthington, 24 Ark. 487; Gardner v. Collins, 2 Pet. 93; Bradford v. Treasurer, Peck (Tenn.), 425; Warburton v. Loveland, 2 Dow & Cl. 489; Sturges v. Crowninshield, 4 Wheat. 202; Denton v. Reading, 22 La. Ann. 607; State v. Wiltz, 11 La. Ann. 439; Kinderley v. Jervis, 25 L. J. Ch. 541; New Orleans, etc. R. R. Co. v. Hemphill, 35 Miss. 17; Ezekiel v. Dixon, 3 Ga. 152; State v. Buckman, 18 Fla. 267; Hindmarsh v. Charlton, 8 H. L. Cas. 166; Jennings
v. Love, 24 Miss. 249; Tynan v.
means of its own exposition; and if the sense in which words were intended to be used can be clearly ascertained from its parts and provisions, the intention thus indicated will prevail without resorting to other means of aiding in the construction.1
In Alexander v. Worthington, the Maryland court of appeals have lucidly expressed this sound doctrine on the point under consideration: "The language of a statute is its most natural expositor; and where its language is susceptible of a sensible interpretation, it is not to be controlled by any extraneous considerations. The construction is to be on the entire statute; and where one part is susceptible indifferently of two constructions, and the language of another part is clear and definite, and is consistent with one of the two constructions of which the former part of the statute is susceptible, and is opposed to the other construction, then we are to adopt that construction which will render all clauses of the statute harmonious, rather than that other construction which will make one part contradictory to another. Where the letter of the statute is inconsistent with itself, we may eviscerate an intent by considering the mischief existing and the remedy proposed to be introduced. We are not at liberty to imagine an intent and bind the letter of the act to that intent; much less can we indulge in the license of striking out and inserting, and remodeling, with the view of making the letter express an intent which the statute in its native form does not evidence. Every construction, therefore, is vicious which requires great changes in the letter of the statute, and, of the several constructions, that is to be preferred which introduces the most general and uniform remedy."
The legislature must be understood to mean what it has plainly expressed, and this excludes construction. The legislative intent being plainly expressed, so that the act read by
v. Buck, 8 B. & C. 161; Rex v. Poor
3 Rex v. Banbury, 1 A. & E. 142; Case v. Wildridge, 4 Ind. 51; Johnson v. Railroad Co. 49 N. Y. 455, 462;
United States v. Fisher, 2 Cranch, 358; The Sussex Peerage, 11 Cl. & Fin. 143; Koch v. Bridges, 45 Miss. 247; United States v. Hartwell, 6 Wall. 395; State v. Buckman, 18 Fla. 267; Ogden v. Strong, 2 Paine, 584; Denn v. Reid, 10 Pet. 524.