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Statutory Diagrams

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We live in a republic of statutes, yet understanding those statutes has become so cognitively difficult that judges cannot properly interpret them, citizens cannot properly understand them, and legislatures cannot properly write them. This Note presents a new tool for reducing the cognitive difficulty of understanding and applying statutes: statutory diagrams. The Note presents the theoretical case for diagrams as well as empirical evidence from a randomized control experiment demonstrating diagrams’ efficacy. The Note also presents theoretical and empirical evidence for diagrams’ primary drawback: the risk of biasing the interpretation of an ambiguous statute. This Note then explores how statutory diagrams could be utilized at each stage of a statute’s life, exploring the unique benefits and risks of each use. Both textualist and purposivist judges can use diagrams to better actualize the normative values underlying their interpretive theories. Agencies can diagram statutes they administer to better communicate the statutory scheme to those it governs. Legislatures can use diagrams as part of the drafting process to avoid drafting errors. Finally, legislatures could formally enact the diagrams into law.

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