Whereas, the Supreme Court Rules for Stuffy Language

You might think you understand a law, but legal context is different.

Can I get the CliffsNotes?

Photographer: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

Should laws be understood based on the way people speak? Or should they be interpreted according to technical rules of statutory construction, so that law becomes a specialized language game all its own? In a decision issued Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court voted, 6-2, for the second option. The case, Lockhart v. U.S., promises to be a classic. The court’s breakdown was about jurisprudence, not partisan ideology. And the issue was, remarkably enough, dangling modifiers.

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