Constitutional avoidance

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Constitutional avoidance is a canon or principle of statutory interpretation that requires construing a statute in order to avoid any potential conflicts with the U.S. Constitution or applicable state constitution.

“It has long been an axiom of statutory interpretation that ‘where an otherwise acceptable construction of a statute would raise serious constitutional problems, the Court will construe the statute to avoid such problems unless such construction is plainly contrary to the intent of Congress.” Public Citizen v. United States Department of Justice, 491 U.S. 440, 466 (1989) (citing Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. v. Florida Gulf Coast Building & Construction Trades Council, 485 U.S. 568, 575 (1988)).

Sutherland's Statutes and Statutory Construction recites that a “court should construe legislative enactments to avoid constitutional difficulties if possible” and that “when possible, statutory provisions should be construed in such a way as to avoid unconstitutionality rather than simply void them on the basis of an interpretation which renders them constitutionally infirm.” Norman Singer, Sutherland’s Statutes and Statutory Construction 45.11, 48-49 n.4 & n.7 (5th ed. 1992).