General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581, 27 (2004)

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Cite as: 540 U. S. 581 (2004)

Thomas, J., dissenting

discrimination in this idiomatic sense is confirmed by legislative history." Ante, at 596 (emphasis added). The Court does not define "social history," although it is apparently something different from legislative history, because the Court refers to legislative history as a separate interpretive tool in the very same sentence. Indeed, the Court has never defined "social history" in any previous opinion, probably because it has never sanctioned looking to "social history" as a method of statutory interpretation. Today, the Court takes this unprecedented step, and then places dispositive weight on the new concept.

It appears that the Court considers the "social history" of the phrase "discriminate . . . because of [an] individual's age" to be the principal evil that Congress targeted when it passed the ADEA. In each section of its analysis, the Court pointedly notes that there was no evidence of widespread problems of antiyouth discrimination, and that the primary concerns of Executive Branch officials and Members of Congress pertained to problems that workers generally faced as they increased in age.3 The Court reaches its final, legal conclusion as to the meaning of the phrase (that "ordinary people" employing the common usage of language would "talk about discrimination because of age [as] naturally [referring to] discrimination against the older," ante, at 591) only after concluding both that "the ADEA was concerned to protect a relatively old worker from discrimination that works to the advantage of the relatively young" and that

3 See ante, at 587 ("The [Wirtz] report contains no suggestion that reactions to age level off at some point, and it was devoid of any indication that the Secretary [of Labor] had noticed unfair advantages accruing to older employees at the expense of their juniors"); ante, at 589 (finding from the records of congressional hearings "nothing suggesting that any workers were registering complaints about discrimination in favor of their seniors"); ante, at 590 (finding that, with one exception, "all the findings and statements of objectives are either cast in terms of the effects of age as intensifying over time, or are couched in terms that refer to 'older' workers, explicitly or implicitly relative to 'younger' ones").


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