Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 6 (1995)

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Opinion of the Court

27A.2 It is true that "[a] judicial construction of a statute is an authoritative statement of what the statute meant before as well as after the decision of the case giving rise to that construction." Rivers v. Roadway Express, Inc., 511 U. S. 298, 312-313 (1994); see also id., at 313, n. 12. But respondents' argument confuses the question of what the law in fact was on June 19, 1991, with the distinct question of what 27A means by its reference to what the law was. We think it entirely clear that it does not mean the law enunciated in Lampf, for two independent reasons. First, Lampf provides a uniform, national statute of limitations (instead of using the applicable state limitations period, as lower federal courts had previously done. See Lampf, 501 U. S., at 354, and n. 1). If the statute referred to that law, its reference to the "laws applicable in the jurisdiction" (emphasis added) would be quite inexplicable. Second, if the statute refers to the law enunciated in Lampf, it is utterly without effect, a result to be avoided if possible. American Nat. Red Cross v. S. G., 505 U. S. 247, 263-264 (1992); see 2A N. Singer, Sutherland on Statutory Construction 46.06 (Sands rev. 4th ed. 1984). It would say, in subsection (a), that the limitations period is what the Supreme Court has held to be the limitations period; and in subsection (b), that suits dismissed as untimely under Lampf which were timely under Lampf (a null set) shall be reinstated. To avoid a constitutional question by holding that Congress enacted, and the President approved, a blank sheet of paper would indeed constitute "disingenuous evasion." George Moore Ice Cream Co. v. Rose, 289 U. S. 373, 379 (1933).

2 Since respondents' reading of the statute would avoid a constitutional question of undoubted gravity, we think it prudent to entertain the argument even though respondents did not make it in the Sixth Circuit. Of course the Sixth Circuit did decide (against respondents) the point to which the argument was directed. See 1 F. 3d 1487, 1490 (1993) ("The statute's language is plain and unambiguous. . . . [It] commands the Federal courts to reinstate cases which those courts have dismissed").

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