Learned Hand; statutory interpretation


It is a great honor to take part in the celebration of the Second Circuit’s 125th anniversary and in particular to present the Hands Lecture. The Second Circuit in the 1930s and 1940s came to be called the “Hand Court,” and during those years it established its reputation as the most admired of the U.S. circuit courts of appeals. It was called the Hand Court because two of its judges, who often formed the majority on three-judge panels, bore the surname Hand. Learned Hand is today regarded as a great common law judge, and significant attention has been given, most prominently by his biographer Gerald Gunther, to some of his forays into constitutional law. Less has been said about Learned Hand and statutory interpretation, something he spoke about often in public speeches, and a task he performed on a continuing basis for fifty-two years as a sitting judge. Statutory interpretation has become a subject of controversy in recent years, at least among judges and academic lawyers. I thought, therefore, that it would be interesting, and perhaps illuminating, to consider what Learned Hand said—and what he did—in the way of statutory interpretation.