The California Supreme Court’s Unlawful Use of Legislative History to Interpret Unambiguous Statutes during Its 2005 Term


A large part of the California Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the statutes that the California Legislature has enacted. The Court has developed clear rules for this task. One of the rules is that courts may rely on legislative history if and only if the statute being interpreted is ambiguous. However, as a review of the Court’s recent Term from September 2005 to August 2006 reveals, the Court consistently violates this important rule. This article considers four cases in which the Court used legislative history to “confirm” the meaning of an unambiguous statute, and one case in which the Court used legislative history to change an unambiguous statute’s meaning. It concludes with suggestions for improving the Court’s performance.



Date of this Version

September 2006