Logic and Laws: Relief from Statutory Obfuscation

Ever-expanding use of the legislative process in recent years has resulted in a vast proliferation of statutes and regulations. The Public Acts of the First United States Congress (1789-91) filled only 203 pages. The Public Acts of the Thirty-first Congress (1850-51) filled 227 pages, those of the Sixty-first Congress (1909-11) filled 1459 pages, and those of the Ninety-first Congress (1969-71) filled 2938 pages. In addition, publication of new and recently amended federal regulations contributed to a Federal Register exceeding 45,000 pages in length in 1974. The growth of state statutory materials parallels this trend. Unfortunately, the technology of statutory expression has failed to keep pace with the very technological changes which many of the statutes themselves regulate. With the increasing trend towards legislation as a means of effecting fundamental social change and the increased number and complexity of statutes, it is time to reassess tolerance of ambiguity and obscurity in statutes. As the body of statutory material continues to grow, it is important to take steps to assure that general statutory policies, as well as statutory details, are not obscured by the difficulty of communicating such a large mass of information. This note will examine the potential of normalization, a process whereby conditions and consequences in a statute are arranged and related in an orderly manner, as a means for improving the readability of statutes and relieving them of syntactic ambiguity.