Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Half as Much: Musical Analogy of Interpreting a Statute

In prior posts (see list below) I have suggested the process of musical interpretation is an apt analogy for the process of legal interpretation.  A musical composition is created and contains principles of melody, rhythm, tempo, and lyrics.  These principles represent the law of the song much the way the words and intent expressed by a legislature are the law of the statute.  But if the legislature is the composer, it can never be the performer.  That role is left to the courts to interpret the law of the statute - much as musical performers interpret the law of the musical composition in their own performances.

Below are several interpretations of the song Half as Much. The song was written by Curley Williams in 1951 and became a huge hit for country star Hank Williams, Sr. in 1952.  That same year it was recorded by Rosemary Clooney with an entirely different interpretation that was a hit with an entirely different audience. When judges consider public policy effects of their interpretations, one could say they are interpreting the law to appeal to different audiences. The versions recorded by Ray Charles and Sharon Redd are more different still. In law, fidelity to precedent is desirable, but strict adherence in all circumstances is not. Roscoe Pound's famously stated principle that the law must be stable but must not stand still is achieved through the talented interpretations of judicial performers.

Other posts incorporating music analogies:  
Judicial Interpretation Illustrated
This Land is Your Land: Judicial Interpretation Illustrated #2,
My Favorite Things: Judicial Interpretation Illustrated #3
Statutory Interpretation Illustrated,
Over the Rainbow.

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