The Practice Book And Section 1-2z–Not!Posted: November 6, 2014
This post is another in a series of Dan Klau mini-tirades against the judicial application of General Statutes § 1-2z–the statutory “plain meaning rule”–to legal texts that are not statutes. As I have said before, and now say once again, the plain language of § 1-2z makes clear that it only applies to statutes. Thus, it does not apply to administrative regulations, local ordinances or, in my opinion, the Practice Book. Yet the state Supreme Court appears to disagree.
Consider the high court’s recent decision in State v. Jones, which involved a question about the meaning of Practice Book section 42-23(a). That section requires that a trial court ‘‘shall submit to the jury . . . [a]ll exhibits received in evidence’ for review during its deliberations.” The specific issue in the appeal was whether this Practice Book rule required the trial court to provide DVD-viewing equipment to the jury so that it could watch a digital video exhibit during deliberations in the jury room, or whether the court could have the jury view the exhibit in open court. (The answer was the latter.)
In interpreting the Practice Book, the court said the following:
Our interpretation of the rules of practice is a question of law subject to plenary review. State v. Heredia, 310 Conn. 742, 755, 81 A.3d 1163 (2013). We interpret rules of practice in the same manner that we construe statutes. Id. We previously have set forth the principles that govern our interpretation. Id. As with statutes, if the text of a Practice Book provision and an analysis of its relationship to other related provisions yield a plain and unambiguous meaning,we apply that meaning to the case before us. Id., 755–56.
I agree that rules of practice and statutes are both legal texts and, as such, need to be interpreted. I agree that the same general principles that govern the interpretation of statutes should apply to the interpretation of the court rules of practice. And, while I’m not a huge fan of the plain meaning rule, I acknowledge the logic of applying that rule to the interpretation of the Practice Book.
So what its my gripe? Take a look at State v. Heredia, cited in the block quote above. There the Supreme Court also said that the rules of practice are subject to the same general principles of interpretation as statutes, including the plain meaning rule, but it went one step further and actually applied § 1-2z. That is the error that I wish to highlight. Once again, by its very terms § 1-2z applies only to statutes. It has no formal role to play in the interpretation of rules of practice (or any other legal text that is not a statute).
Some may accuse me of making a mountain out of a mole hill. Perhaps, perhaps not. Here is my point. The plain meaning rule existed as a matter of common law long before the General Assembly enacted § 1-2z in 2003. The Supreme Court rejected that common law approach to interpretation in State v. Courchesne and the General Assembly then overruled that decision by enacting § 1-2z, but only with respect to the interpretation of statutes. Moreover, assuming that the legislature has the constitutional authority to tell judges how to interpret statutes–an issue still subject to some debate–I seriously doubt that the General Assembly has the constitutional authority to tell the Supreme Court how to interpret
its own the [Judicial Branch’s own] rules of practice.
My bottom line: If the Supreme Court wants to say that the plain meaning rule applies to
its own [the Judicial Branch’s own] rules of practice, it certainly can do so as a matter of common law. What it should not do is say, or even suggest, that § 1-2z compels it to apply the plain meaning rule to the interpretation of the Practice Book.