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The Use of Extrinsic Aids to Statutory Construction in Oregon, 29 Oregon Law Review 1 (1949)


The practice of law today is largely a matter of using and interpreting statutes. Most fields of law have been codified and the practitioner is faced daily with the problem of determining the exact meaning of legislative enactments when he seeks to apply them to factual situations concerning which he must give advice. The success of today's lawyer depends in large part upon how able he is at interpreting statutes, in reaching decisions on the meaning of statutory language so that courts will hold with him in litigated cases and opposing counsel will agree with him in nonlitigated matters.

But oftentimes statutory interpretation is not an easy matter. Language has limitations in fully expressing ideas, and the general, rather condensed expression of ideas characteristic of statutes inevitably results in uncertainty of meaning in borderline situations, even with well-drafted statutes. Since most of our words have varying meanings or varying shades of meaning, these basic units of language carry uncertainty of meaning with them. Groupings of words in statutory sections merely multiply the inherent uncertainty of words. The problem of the legislator is further complicated by the fact that he can rarely contemplate in advance all of the possible factual situations to which statutory language may be applicable. Then, of course, there is the problem of the poorly drafted statute. The inevitable difficulties in the way of certainty of expression are greatly increased when care is not taken in drafting.

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