Does the Past Predict the Future?: An Empirical Analysis of Recent Iowa Supreme Court Use of Legislative History as a Window into Statutory Construction in Iowa
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SubjectIowa legislative history; Legislative intent; Statutory interpretation; Iowa Supreme Court; Legal research
This Article provides an empirical analysis of Iowa Supreme Court decisions from 2004–2013 that employ legislative history in interpreting Iowa statutes. It answers the question: When the Iowa Supreme Court consults legislative history in construing an Iowa statute, what specific types of materials are cited? Further, this Article provides an overview of statutory drafting and construction in Iowa and discusses the inherent uncertainties of statutory interpretation, using Sallee v. Stewart and State v. Heemstra to illustrate the variance in how the court decides whether historical analysis applies to a case, and, if so, what it means. Although a precise formula for “correctly” reading a statute cannot be formulated, this Article suggests some practices that will help ensure as thorough a reading of an Iowa statute as possible. This Article concludes with two recommendations for the Iowa Supreme Court. First, consistently cite Iowa Code Section 4.6(3) when using legislative history to determine legislative intent. Second, formulate a more complex rule on the use of bill explanations in determining legislative intent, neither abandoning them completely nor always using them, but instead considering them as an extrinsic source of evidence for understanding a statute only when appropriate after analyzing the bill’s amendment history.