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Legal Research Tip

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It's really common to see people look up some statute, assign a meaning to it, and base their argument on what they perceive the statute to mean.

When citing statutes, the text of the statute is really less important than the way the courts have interpreted it. Those of you who do a fair amount of research probably already know this, but for those who don't, you need to realize how important this is. Before proceeding on what you think a statute means, research its treatment. Regardless of what it says, or what you think it says, the critical test is what the courts have decided it says.

Under accepted canons of statutory construction, an interpretation consistently given to the statute is as much a part of the statute as if expressly written in it. We have no right to change or ignore it. If it is to be changed, it must be done by the Legislature, the law-making power. If in its wisdom, a change is desirable, it can readily do so. Scott v. Scott, 442 N.E.2d 493 (N.C., 1997)
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