Rabb on Legal Canons–In the Classroom and in the Courtroom or, Comparative Perspective on the Origins of Islamic Legal Canons @intisarrabb @Harvard_Law @VillanovaLawRev

Intisar A. Rabb, Harvard Law School, has published Legal Canons—In the Classroom and in the Courtroom or, Comparative Perspective on the Origins of Islamic Legal Canons, 1265–1519 at 66 Villanova Law Review 831 (2021). Here is the abstract.

LEGAL CANONS have made a comeback. We can quite firmly put to rest the old lament that legal interpretation is understudied and undertheorized, and with it, the idea that “legal canons” are not a major part of that story. For some thirty years now, since the rise of new textualism, judges and legal academics have closely reexamined the role of legal canons. We now recognize these canons as, per Black’s Law Dictionary, “established principle[s] . . . of law universally admitted, as being a correct statement of the law, or as agreeable to natural reason.” And we very frequently see them appear alternately in the varied opinions of self-avowed textualists and non-textualists alike, like so many interpretive tools-turned-rhetorical-weapons to justify opposing outcomes, both in the classroom and in the courtroom.

Notably, this recent “canons comeback” is not a unique feature of American law. It applies to both American law and Islamic law, in ways that may offer comparative insight when considering that the Islamic law context comes with a centuries-long tradition of interpreting law with legal canons. Exploring that history may provide insight for understanding the enduring salience of legal canons and their current comeback, not just in one legal tradition, but two. That history might also aid in grasping the reasons for which interpreters devise and deploy canons in the first place, and of the interpretive reach of legal canons in systems that seem committed to canons in both the courtroom and the classroom.

This Article explores the history of Islamic legal canons’ rise in Islamic law, with implications for comparative conversations about related canons in modern American and Islamic law, and statutory interpretation.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.