Rivers v. Roadway Express, Inc., 511 U.S. 298, 8 (1994)

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Cite as: 511 U. S. 298 (1994)

Opinion of the Court

tively to events that would otherwise be governed by the judicial decision.5 A legislative response does not necessarily indicate that Congress viewed the judicial decision as "wrongly decided" as an interpretive matter. Congress may view the judicial decision as an entirely correct reading of prior law—or it may be altogether indifferent to the decision's technical merits—but may nevertheless decide that the old law should be amended, but only for the future. Of course, Congress may also decide to announce a new rule that operates retroactively to govern the rights of parties whose rights would otherwise be subject to the rule announced in the judicial decision. Because retroactivity raises special policy concerns, the choice to enact a statute that responds to a judicial decision is quite distinct from the choice to make the responding statute retroactive.

Petitioners argue that the structure and legislative history of 101 indicate that Congress specifically intended to "restore" prior law even as to parties whose rights would otherwise have been determined according to Patterson's interpretation of 1981. Thus, 101 operates as a gloss on the terms "make and enforce contracts," the original language of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that was before this Court in Patterson. Petitioners also point to evidence in the 1991 Act's legislative history indicating legislators' distress with Patterson's construction of 1981 and their view that our decision had narrowed a previously established understand-5 Congress frequently "responds" to judicial decisions construing statutes, and does so for a variety of reasons. According to one commentator, between 1967 and 1990, the Legislature "overrode" our decisions at an average of "ten per Congress." Eskridge, Overriding Supreme Court Statutory Interpretation Decisions, 101 Yale L. J. 331, 338 (1991). Seldom if ever has Congress responded to so many decisions in a single piece of legislation as it did in the Civil Rights Act of 1991. See Landgraf v. USI Film Products, ante, at 250-251.


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