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Canon of Statutory Construction — Ejusdem Generis

We start with the presumption that the Legislature drafts its bills carefully and intentionally

By Chris Micheli, October 28, 2022 6:43 am

For purposes of statutory construction, the courts and bill drafters use a series of “canons” to guide them. These include textual canons (intrinsic aids), linguistic presumptions and grammatical conventions, substantive canons, and extrinsic aids. It is impossible to list them all, but there are some common canons, and those are most useful for legislative drafting.

We start with the presumption that the Legislature drafts its bills carefully and intentionally. Because of this presumption, the usual approach of the judicial branch is to narrow statutes rather than expand them, and the courts are less activist in their interpretation.

Ejusdem Generis guides the courts to interpret catch-all phrases to be limited by the specific words around them. Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “What category would come to a reasonable person’s mind?” His opinion was that the canon narrows the statute, or the catch-all, by the surrounding words in the remainder of the statute.

The Latin phrase Ejusdem generis means “of the same kind” and is used regarding related content in a statute. In other words, this canon of construction requires that, where there are general words in a statute following particular and specific words, then the general words must be confined to things of the same kind as those specifically mentioned.

This canon is used for interpreting loosely written statutes. Again, it is used if the statute lists certain things and the list ends with a general statement to include other things (which legislative drafters refer to as a “catch-all”), then a court will assume that the general statement only includes things that are similar to the items listed.

For example, if a statute says that “cars, motorcycles, scooters, and other motorized vehicles must be licensed”, the court would not likely require boats, trains, or planes to be licensed as well.

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