Justice Scalia, in the end, was no interpretive formalist. He would not be pleased to hear this claim, but the fact is that formalism has not succeeded in statutory interpretation, and in fact, the textualism that Justice Scalia deserves so much credit for creating never really embraced formalism at all.
Textualism lacks all the conditions necessary for formalism. It does not have a defined set of predictable rules ordered to ensure objective application. Instead, we have more than one hundred interpretive presumptions-the presumptions favored by textualists-with no defined method of choosing among them. These doctrines of the field are not treated as precedent or even as law that a higher court or Congress is entitled to make. Instead, they occupy the unique status of being viewed as inherently personal to the individual judge, a status not shared by any other doctrines applied by Article III courts. The doctrines do not have a theorized jurisprudence that legitimates their source, ties them to a sovereign lawmaking power, or even indicates where the rules come from. Justice Scalia himself was never willing to admit that many canons-including ones he himself invented-are judicial creations, and hence, federal common law; to the contrary, he argued that treating them as common law might be unconstitutional.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Gluck, Abbe R., "Justice Scalia's Unfinished Business in Statutory Interpretation: Where Textualism's Formalism Gave Up" (2017). Faculty Scholarship Series. 5181.