Considerable resources in U.S. legal studies are devoted to determining the precise meaning of contested terms specifically in statutory interpretation. Traditional judicial approaches have defined meaning using dictionaries. This reliance has led to Mouritsen’s (2010) observation that "the judicial conception of lexical meaning—i.e., what judges think about what words mean … is often [subjectively] outcome determinative." Beginning with Mouritsen’s (2010) article, a movement in U.S. legal scholarship offers corpus linguistics as a more objective method to resolving contested meaning (Lee and Mouritsen, 2018). However, I assert that weaknesses still exist in contemporary applications of corpus linguistics to legal interpretation. I first review methodological differences in two corpus-based projects that attempt to resolve the meaning of the contested term, "emoluments," a high-profile Supreme Court-bound contemporary issue related to the legitimacy of the Trump presidency (Phillips and White, 2018; Cunningham and Egbert, 2019). Unfortunately, the results of these two studies are in conflict. Based upon a critique of these projects, I advocate for a more objective method of interpreting the results of corpus analyses using multiple human coders following rater reliability research models often used in sociolinguistics and second language acquisition research. In order to test our assumptions, I apply this approach to utilizing corpus linguistics to define the meaning of "sex" in two highly charged cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court within the context of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination "because of. . . sex" (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The first case, Harris Funeral Home v. EEOC, questions if "sex" encompasses "gender identity;" while the second, Altitude v. Zarda, asks if the meaning of "sex" includes "sexual orientation." I discuss results of this research model and its implications to further corpus linguistic applications to the law.



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Semantics, Corpus, Questionnaires