The Flexibility Canon

Older rules must be interpreted as being flexible when new rules and situations arise.


1. West v. Gibson, 119 S.Ct. 1906 (1999):

“Words in statutes can enlarge or contract their scope as other changes, in law or in the world, require their application to new instances or make old applications anachronistic.”

2. Food and Drug Admin. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 120 S.Ct. 1291 (2000):

“At the time a statute is enacted, it may have a range of plausible meanings. Over time, however, subsequent acts can shape or focus those meanings. The classic judicial task of reconciling many laws enacted over time, and getting them to ‘make sense’ in combination, necessarily assumes that the implications of a statute may be altered by the implications of a later statute.”

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