Clark v. Martinez

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In Clark v. Martinez, 543 U.S. 371, 381-82 (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court relied on the canon of statutory interpretation to interpret statutes to avoid constitutional difficulties.:

The canon is not a method of adjudicating constitutional questions by other means. See, e.g., NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 440 U.S. 490, 502, 59 L. Ed. 2d 533, 99 S. Ct. 1313 (1979) (refusing to engage in extended analysis in the process of applying the avoidance canon "as we would were we considering the constitutional issue"); see also Vermeule, Saving Constructions, 85 Geo. L. J. 1945, 1960-1961 (1997) (providing examples of cases where the Court construed a statute narrowly to avoid a constitutional question ultimately resolved in favor of the broader reading). Indeed, one of the canon's chief justifications is that it allows courts to avoid the decision of constitutional questions. It is a tool for choosing between competing plausible interpretations of a statutory text, resting on the reasonable presumption that Congress did not intend the alternative which raises serious constitutional doubts. See Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173, 191, 114 L. Ed. 2d 233, 111 S. Ct. 1759 (1991); Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. v. Florida Gulf Coast Building & Constr. Trades Council, 485 U.S. 568, 575, 99 L. Ed. 2d 645, 108 S. Ct. 1392 (1988). The canon is thus a means of giving effect to congressional intent, not of subverting it. And when a litigant invokes the canon of avoidance, he is not attempting to vindicate the constitutional rights of others, as the dissent believes; he seeks to vindicate his own statutory rights. We find little to recommend the novel interpretive approach advocated by the dissent, which would render every statute a chameleon, its meaning subject to change depending on the presence or absence of constitutional concerns in each individual case. Cf. Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545, 556, 153 L. Ed. 2d 524, 122 S. Ct. 2406 (2002) (rejecting "a dynamic view of statutory interpretation, under which the text might mean one thing when enacted yet another if the prevailing view of the Constitution later changed").