“Swimmers Only Between Flags” (Or The Problem With “Plain Meaning”)

by: Peter J. Gallagher

 

Here is a link to one of my articles that was recently published on Law360.com.  The original title was "'Swimmers Only Between Flags' Or The Problem With 'Plain Meaning'" but the editors shortened it by removing the part about the swmmers. The sign that inspired the article (if "inspired" is not too obnoxious) is at the top of this post, and here is the opening paragraph of the article:

I was at the beach recently and passed a sign that read “Swimmers Only Between Flags.” Being a lawyer, I could not simply nod knowingly at the sign and keep walking. Instead, I thought: “well, that is ambiguous.” Did it mean that swimmers were only allowed between the flags (and not outside them) or that only swimmers were allowed between the flags (and not, for example, surfers or boogie boarders)? I mentioned it to my wife, who told me to make sure I put sunscreen on the kids. But, the sign stuck with me that day, and again when I read the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Abramski v. United States (No. 12-1493), a decision that involved competing interpretations of the “plain meaning” of a statute regulating the purchase of guns.

I hope you enjoy the article.

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