This is “You Don’t Need a Canon”, a song that I wrote over the Labor Day weekend, and which I just performed for my Legislation & Regulation classes today. My accompanist, who also arranged the music, is my student Josh Pender.

Warning: You might find this fairly incomprehensible unless you understand statutory interpretation and interpretive canons, including the Chevron doctrine.


Expressio of the unius might be exclusio alterius,
But to represent my thoughts it’s not ideal.
And noscitur a sociis and ejusdem generis
Won’t help you understand the way I feel.
Presumption of consistency
Would leave it still a mystery,
And legislative history
Would tear my soul apart,
But you don’t need a canon
To interpret my heart.

I was silent, and contradictory, and at times I spoke too wordily,
My words did not match up with my desire.
There were gaps and there was surplus and you thought it was absurdity,
And who knows what approach this might require.
I think that I should mention all
My purposes are intentional
But methods too conventional
Are not how we should start,
But you don’t need a canon
To interpret my heart.

Don’t talk to me of lenity if you value my serenity,
Though my words might not mean quite what they appear,
And don’t tell me about avoidance, ’cause it’s nothing but annoyance —
I’m sorry if my statements weren’t clear…

Long ago I gave you power to issue regulations —
It’s a delegation I cannot withdraw.
Implicitly I meant that you should do interpretations
‘Cause to me your statements have the force of law.
I give your agency deference
If ambiguous was my reference,
If deciphering my preference
Is less a science than an art —
But you don’t need a canon,
I hope you weren’t plannin’
To use a textual canon
To interpret my heart,
To use a semantic or substantive canon
To interpret my heart.