Disclaimer the first: This may be an IMHO, but legal stuff usually ends up here or in the Pit.
Disclaimer the second: IANAL nor do I play one on TV. I am an interested layman with some informal background in law (mostly contract-type stuff).
Exxon v Allapattah Services, Inc, et al. (SC No. 04-70 warning: PDF) is a case in which I have some interest (not as a plaintiff or defendant). It’s a 5-4 decision regarding federal jurisdiction, specifically supplemental jurisdiction. My “question” however, lies along a different path. At the heart of the issue is §1367, a law that appears to be somewhat straightforward on a plain reading of the text (see the majority opinion page 9 and after). However, there is a problem in that a House Committee Report was issued that basically said: “We know what the text says, but that’s not what we mean by it”. But apparently no attempt was ever made to actually amplify the text of the statute itself, and it passed with the conflict intact. The majority opinion says (paraphrased): When the plain-meaning of the statute is clear, we don’t need to look at intent and this one is clear. Stevens’ and Ginsberg’s dissenting opinions say: You always look at legislative intent since “close questions of [statutory] construction should be resolved in favor on continuity and against change” (see Ginsberg dissent page 19) and the statute isn’t that damn clear anyway.
I tend to agree with the majority, why should a committee report be allowed to override an otherwise (reasonably) clear statute? I understand (and agree, I think) that, in cases where the statute is not clear or is being interpreted against new circumstances, legislative history can be a valuable guide as to Congress’ intent and should be given weight. In this case though, at the time the committee report was issued, Congress was aware of the possible misinterpretation and had the opportunity to fix it, but chose not to. Why should the Committee Report be given any weight at all?