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Research: lawyers prefer textual interpretation over moral assessment

How do lawyers and jurors interpret and apply legal rules? Niek Strohmaier et al. addressed the question based on the legal date from 15 different countries. There appears to be a preference for a textual approach opposed to a moral assessment of the law. But why?

Sometimes, a person violates a law in the very literal sense of the law’s text, but not necessarily in the sense of the ‘spirit’ of the law and its underlying purpose (and vice versa). When faced with a potential rule violation, do people judge the violation based on the legal rule’s literal text (called textualism) or on the rule’s purpose (called purposivism)?

In a new publication by lab member Niek Strohmaier in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – PNAS, data from 15 countries shows that people by and large adopt a textualist approach. Moreover, lawyers demonstrated stronger textualist tendencies than lay people, also when their textualist judgments conflicted with their moral evaluation of the action. Why would legal experts disregard their moral sense and privilege the letter of the law when tasked with applying written rules? The paper also aims to address this question. 

You can read the full article here.  

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