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Copyright (c) 1993 University of California, Hastings College of Law
Hastings Law Journal

The Supreme Court's Role in Interpreting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

July, 1993

44 Hastings L.J. 1039


Karen Nelson Moore *


During the last decade the Supreme Court has become increasingly fond of using the plain meaning doctrine 1 to interpret the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Indeed, during the last several terms of the Court, a number of key decisions interpreting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, especially those interpreting infamous Rule 11, 2 have hinged on a majority's view of the plain meaning of a Rule's language. Although this development parallels a similar development in statutory construction, it is particularly puzzling in the context of the Federal Rules, 3 which are created under the Court's supervision and are approved by the Court before becoming effective.

While the Court has been heading towards a plain meaning approach to analyzing the Federal Rules, the rulemaking process has been undergoing some change. In the past, the Advisory Committees, which formulate the initial drafts of proposed Rules, operated somewhat in the background and with little public attention. Recent statutory amendments, however, have broadened the process, effectively resulting in a sunshine law for the promulgation of the Federal Rules. In light of these changes in the promulgation process, it is especially important to examine the appropriate role for the Supreme Court in interpreting the Federal Rules.

This Article proposes that the Supreme Court should take a more activist role in interpreting the Federal Rules by including an analysis of purpose and policy and should refrain from excessive reliance upon the plain meaning doctrine. The Court's interpretation of ...
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