Clashing Canons and the Contract Clause

This Article is the first in-depth examination of substantive canons that judges use to interpret public pension legislation under the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions. The resolution of constitutional controversies concerning pension reform will have a profound influence on government employment. The assessment begins with a general discussion of these interpretive techniques before turning to their operation in public pension litigation. It concentrates on three clashing canons: the remedial (purpose) canon, the “no contract” canon (otherwise known as the unmistakability doctrine), and the constitutional avoidance canon. For these three canons routinely employed in pension law, there has been remarkably little research on their history, evolution, or impact. This study spotlights the methodology that underlies these diverse and complicated judgments. Illuminating actual judicial practices lets us better comprehend when, how, and why these canons function. It puts us in a position to choose the most appropriate canon(s) and to offer improvements on their operation. It also allows us to relate the role of canons to other kinds of legal reasoning. Significantly, studying these canons fills a void in state statutory interpretation as well as contributes to a better understanding of state court enforcement of the Contract Clause that has received scarcely any attention.