Monday, October 2, 2017
Susan Morse (Texas), When the Life of the Law Is Logic (JOTWELL) (reviewing Sarah Lawsky (Northwestern), Formalizing the Code, 70 Tax L. Rev. 377 (2017):
In Formalizing the Code, Professor Sarah Lawsky offers a glimpse of what might be gained if law were written in formal logic language. It might be written by machine-language specialists attached to Congressional tax-writing committees. It could reduce unintentional ambiguity and complexity. Computers could understand it.
Lawsky takes as her focus a problem she calls definitional scope, defined as “when the Code uses a term but the structure of the Code leaves unclear to what a term refers.” (P. 378.) Definitional scope is about cross-references, and cross-references are one element of the formal structure of the Code.
This paper, like other recent examples of Lawsky’s work (here and in A Logic for Statutes, 21 Fla. Tax Rev. (forthcoming 2017)) considers the potential of computer logic and artificial intelligence to transform law. The idea of formalizing the code is powerful and provocative. It shows how machine logic could identify and prevent human error. It also raises the issue of when formal logic can capture the meaning of law, and when it cannot.