New for spring 2012: Legislation and Statutory Interpretation

November 14, 2011Duke Law News

Professor Margaret H. Lemos is launching her teaching career at Duke with a course on legislation and statutory interpretation, a subject central to her scholarly research agenda as well as to law practice.

“The vast bulk of legal work involves statutes in some way, and statutory interpretation is an area where good or bad lawyering can really make a difference to how cases come out,” said Lemos, a scholar of constitutional law, federal courts, and civil procedure. Lemos came to Duke Law in July from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where students voted her “best first-year teacher” in 2010 and 2011.

“Much of the class will be devoted to learning the tools of statutory interpretation: the three major theories of interpretation — textualism, intentionalism, and purposivism — and the many ‘canons’ of construction,” Lemos says. “A lawyer who knows the canons can use them to put together a sophisticated argument for her preferred reading of the statute, and a lawyer who understands the background theories can make sure that her argument will appeal to judges of all stripes.”

Lemos focuses her scholarship on the institutions of law interpretation and enforcement and their effects on substantive rights. She writes in four related fields: federalism and the relationship between federal and state enforcement authorities; administrative law, including the relationship between courts and agencies; statutory interpretation; and civil procedure.

Professor Neil Siegel calls Lemos “an expert on statutory implementation,” adding that her work examines what happens to legislation after it is enacted and “clarifies the ways in which the ‘how’ of enforcement and interpretation determine what the law really means in practice.”
In addition to statutory interpretation, Lemos’ course will focus on theory in order to situate statutes and statutory interpretation in the larger body of law. “We'll start by looking at Congress, focusing on legal and political theories that try to explain what motivates legislators to act. We'll then turn to the institutions that interpret Congress's and state legislatures' outputs: courts and agencies. We'll talk about the features that distinguish statutes from constitutional and common law, and then we'll get into the theories and doctrines of statutory interpretation.

“We'll end the class by looking at agencies. Do agencies interpret statutes in the same way courts do? Should they? And if the answer is no, how should that affect judicial review of agency action?”

In a piece recently published in the New York University Law Review, Lemos focuses on the importance of state attorneys general in the enforcement of federal law. She argues that state officials can use enforcement choices to further their own policy preferences, and that state enforcement can fill gaps in federal enforcement. Such augmentation of federal enforcement with the efforts of state officials, she says, can help reduce agency capture, or the risk of companies developing undue influence on the government agencies that regulate them.

Prior to launching her academic career at Cardozo in 2006, Lemos was a Furman Fellow and then the Furman Program coordinator at the New York University School of Law. After clerking for Judge Kermit V. Lipez of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit from 2001 to 2002, she spent a year as a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice. During the 2003-2004 Supreme Court term, Lemos clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens.

She received her JD summa cum laude from NYU School of Law in 2001. She was senior notes editor of the New York University Law Review and a member of Order of the Coif.
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