TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lawsky:  Formalizing The Tax Code

Sarah B. Lawsky (Northwestern), Formalizing the Code, 70 Tax L. Rev. 377 (2017):

The Internal Revenue Code is notoriously complex, both substantively and structurally. This article examines one source of structural complexity in the Internal Revenue Code: dependency among sections that stems from defined terms. In particular, the article examines what it terms the problem of “definitional scope”: when the structure of the Code leaves unclear to what a term refers. The article uses the problem of definitional scope as a case study to suggest that those who draft tax legislation should formalize proposed statutory language — translate it into logical terms — prior to its enactment.

Formalization could help drafters avoid unintentional ambiguity and refine the language used in the statute; it could provide helpful guidance for those wishing to interpret the statute; and, most importantly, it could help move the law closer to legibility by a computer — that is, it could help on the journey to actual legal artificial intelligence.

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Interesting, thanks. We've also had these debates in the UK: see e.g.

Posted by: DDC | Jul 26, 2017 12:51:26 AM

Maybe somebody here remembers this guy's name. I believe he retired after TRA '87, but he translated every congressional act into statutory language since the dawn of time. He was very good. I used to challenge my students to do the same. However, I suspect nothing will cure the random number generator we call congress.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Jul 26, 2017 7:41:37 AM

Ward Hussey.

Posted by: Jack Bogdanski | Jul 27, 2017 2:38:01 AM

Thank you, Jack. He was a legend. I didn't find out about him until he retired. He apparently wrote the entire tax code. Amazing.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Jul 27, 2017 5:18:22 AM