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Judicial invocation of legislative history to interpret federal statutes has grown like weeds in a vacant lot during the last hundred years. American courts and commentators for most of the nineteenth century followed the "English Rule" that, "for the purpose of ascertaining the intention of the legislature, no extrinsic fact, prior to the passage of the bill, which is not itself a rule of law or an act of legislation, can be inquired into or in any way taken into view." By the 1890s, a number of American judges and commentators came to believe -that "[the proceedings of the legislature in reference to the passage of an act," mainly committee reports, "may be taken into consideration in construing the act." Reliance on such materials grew more widespread in the twentieth century. A leading commentator reported the apparent consensus view in 1940 that "close consideration of extrinsic aids," including committee reports, floor debate, and the evolution of the bill, "is today the dominant feature of the interpretive technique employed by federal judges." Since World War II, citation of such material has become commonplace in the federal courts. By 1982, it could be said that "[n]o occasion for statutory construction now exists when the [Supreme] Court will not look at the legislative history," including committee hearings, nonpublic documents, and even oxymoronic "subsequent legislative history."
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