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Room 290, Stanford Law School
Law and Corpus Linguistics: Statutory Interpretation in the Age of Big Data
Thomas R. Lee, Associate Chief Justice, Utah Supreme Court
Judges are routinely asked to identify the “ordinary meaning” of legal text. In many cases such meaning is unclear, and not reliably resolved by human intuition or the dictionary.
Consider the meaning of discharging a weapon. If the entire magazine of a gun is emptied, was the gun discharged once, or multiple times? When we speak of discharging a gun, are we using the verb in the sense of emptying its contents, or in terms of firing a bullet?
Judges typically resolve such problems of ambiguity using their intuition. Could a computer do a better job? Justice Thomas R. Lee of the Utah Supreme Court thinks so. In State v. Rasabout Lee advocated the use of a new big data linguistics tool for judges and lawyers to find the ordinary meaning of statutory text.
This tool, imported from a field called corpus linguistics, employs computer-aided searches of large databases of language to produce objective evidence of ordinary meaning. Lee will introduce some tenets of corpus linguistics analysis, propose standards for its adoption by judges, and respond to criticisms leveled against its viability in the courts.
Lunch will be served.
Justice Thomas R. Lee
Associate Chief Justice, Utah Supreme Court
Thomas R. Lee was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court by Governor Gary Herbert in July 2010. Before joining the Court, Justice Lee was the Rex & Maureen Rawlinson Professor of Law at the Brigham Young University law school, where he continues to serve on a part-time basis as Distinguished Lecturer in Law. Justice Lee graduated with high honors from the University of Chicago Law School in 1991. After law school, he served as a law clerk for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, III, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and then for Justice Clarence Thomas of the United States Supreme Court. Justice Lee then joined the law firm now known as Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless, where he became a shareholder before joining the law faculty at BYU. During his years as a full-time law professor, Justice Lee maintained a part-time intellectual property litigation practice with Howard, Phillips, & Andersen. He also developed a part-time appellate practice, arguing numerous cases in federal courts throughout the country and in the United States Supreme Court. In 2004 – 05, Justice Lee served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.