West Virginia Law Review
American statutes can seem like labyrinthine mazes when compared to some countries’ legislation. French codes are admired for their intellectual elegance and clarity. Novelists and poets (Stendhal, Valéry) have considered the Code civil to be literature. Swedish legislation might be based on empirical research into problems the legislation is intended to remedy, and the drafting style, though modern today, is descended from an oral tradition of poetic narrative.
Comparing these legislative cultures with our own reveals that the main problem with American legislation is not too many words. It is too many ideas — a high ratio of concepts per legislative goal. When American, French, and Swedish legislatures address similar problems, the French and Swedes draft using far fewer concepts than Americans do. In both countries, simple solutions are preferred over convoluted ones. The drafters of the Code civil thought the highest intellectual and legislative accomplishment to be simplicity. The Swedes got to approximately the same place through a cultural value that law be understandable to the public. Where the American legislative process can seem chaotic, there has been some respect for Cartesian rationality in France and for empirical evidence in Sweden.
Even if American statutes were to be translated into ordinary English, they would still be labyrinths because our legislatures insist on addressing every conceivable detail that legislators can imagine. The result is excessively conceptualized legislation, imposing large numbers of duties. Statutory concepts cost money. They create issues, which must be decided by publicly funded courts and agencies with additional costs to the parties involved. Every unnecessary statutory concept wastes social and economic resources. And to the extent law seems incomprehensible to the public, it loses moral authority.
Richard K. Neumann Jr.,
Legislation's Culture, 119 W. VA. L. REV. 397
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