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Canon of Statutory Construction — Rule Against Surplusage

The Rule Against Surplusage explains that different words in the same statute cannot have the same meaning

By Chris Micheli, October 24, 2022 6:55 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.

The Rule Against Surplusage explains that different words in the same statute cannot have the same meaning. In other words, one word is not duplicative or redundant of another word found in the statute. 

The canon called the “rule against surplusage” is used when reading a statute and it appears that one or more parts of the statute are redundant. If there is another reading that would avoid the perceived redundancy, then a court will do so.

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