Virginia Law Review
Va. L. Rev.
Injunctions are powerful remedies. They can force a person to act or refrain from acting, dictate policies that the government must adopt, or even refashion public institutions. Violations of an injunction can result in contempt.
Despite the importance of injunctions, courts have applied an astonishingly wide range of contradictory approaches to interpreting them. They have likewise disagreed over whether appellate courts should defer to trial courts’ interpretations or instead review those interpretations de novo. Virtually no scholarship has been written on these topics.
This Article proposes that courts apply a modified textualist approach to injunctions. Under this scheme, courts would generally interpret injunctions according to the ordinary meaning of their language. When a provision in an injunction quotes or incorporates by reference an extrinsic legal authority, such as a statute or contract, however, courts would interpret that provision according to the methodology they would ordinarily apply to that extrinsic authority. This proposed approach ensures that injunctions provide regulated parties with adequate notice of the conduct proscribed, curtails judicial abuses of power, and aligns tightly with the procedural rules that govern injunctions in both federal and state courts.
This Article further proposes that appellate courts review trial courts’ interpretations of injunctions de novo. Independent appellate review naturally aligns with the textualist goal of implementing the best reading of an injunction, promotes principles of notice, and prevents government overreach.