All law students and practicing lawyers would benefit from formal instruction in legislation and statutory interpretation. The following reading list is intended to supplement required reading in a law school or continuing legal education course. It can also form the basis for a remedial self-taught course.
1. Perhaps the most useful law review article on legislation is William N. Eskridge, Jr. & Philip P. Frickey, Statutory Interpretation as Practical Reasoning, 42 Stan. L. Rev. 321 (1990). The so-called "funnel of abstraction" developed in this article provides, for all practical purposes, a step-by-step guide to formulating persuasive statutory arguments. That tool alone is well worth the price of admission.
2. William N. Eskridge, Jr., Philip P. Frickey & Elizabeth Garrett, Legislation and Statutory Interpretation (2d ed. 2006), is the definitive introduction to the subject of legislation and statutory interpretation. Not surprisingly, this handbook is keyed to the casebook by the same authors. Even in courses using other casebooks, however, this brief introduction to the subject is indispensable.
3. Opinions will certainly differ, but in my judgment, the most influential book on legislation and statutory interpretation of the last 20 years remains William N. Eskridge, Jr., Dynamic Statutory Interpretation (1994). The very idea of "dynamic" interpretation is anathema to advocates of more formal, textually grounded approaches. Professor Eskridge's view of intepretation as an evolutive process nevertheless remains the most important innovation in this field.
4. An intriguing new entrant in the literature is Adrian Vermeule, Judging Under Uncertainty: An Institutional Theory of Legal Interpretation (2006). In stark contrast with Professor Eskridge, Professor Vermeule urges judges to adopt a much more modest set of interpretive tools. Constraints on judicial competence and access to information inform Professor Vermeule's approach. Whether Judging Under Uncertainty will match or eclipse Dynamic Statutory Interpretation remains to be seen, but this book plainly deserves careful examination.
5. Updated: August 30, 2006. At the suggestion of David Hricik, I am adding Guido Calabresi, A Common Law for the Age of Statutes to this reading list. Given its basic premise -- that judges should be free to declare old statutes void for obsolescence -- it's ironic that Judge Calabresi's classic probably feels the most dated of any of the books in this list. Still, this book marks the important point in legal history when the dominance of statutory over judge-made law could no longer be denied. Contemporary readers will learn much from engaging Judge Calabresi's proposal for empowering the common law to respond in a thoroughly statutory age.
6. The all-time classic source on legislation and statutory interpretation remains Henry M. Hart, Jr. & Albert M. Sacks, The Legal Process: Basic Problems in the Making and Application of Law (William N. Eskridge, Jr. & Philip P. Frickey eds., 2001). This classic textbook introduced hundreds of law students, including a substantial number of sitting Supreme Court Justices, to the legal process approach to interpretation. At least one of those students, Antonin Scalia, has devoted a volume of essays (A Matter of Interpretation) to rejecting the lessons of the legal process school. The fact remains that any student or lawyer wishing to understand statutory interpretation in the United States can ill afford to ignore The Legal Process.
Update, August 19, 2006: As a service to its audience, the Jurisdynamics Network offers interested readers the opportunity to obtain these items through the Network's Amazon Store.