Human beings intrinsically seek meaning. We readily accept and absorb a proposition or even a legal stipulation, if it is meaningful. This human trait coupled with law’s ability to create, select and infuse meaning ensures that in case of conflict between rights, those rights that are perceived to be ‘more meaningful’ triumph over those that are viewed to be less so. Hence, it is important to study the relationship between meaning and law and its impact on rights and identity of an individual. In order to do so, we need to address the following questions: What is the meaning of meaning? How is it constructed? How is one meaning adopted to the exclusion of all others? What is the role played by law in construction and adoption of meaning? What is the effect of a grant of legal sanction to a particular meaning? Why does this meaning remain unchallenged? Does the role of law in creation of meaning change depending upon the right in question? I address these questions on the basis of three strands of classical theory of meaning, constitutional jurisprudence, and a few landmark cases that I have had the privilege to be part of. This paper begins by exploring the meaning of meaning and then examines a few models to better understand the role played by law in construction of meaning. I then study the conflict between the plurality of meaning of the public interest and the singularity of meaning of individual rights and the resultant effect on the identity of an individual. The paper’s final assertion lies in envisaging scenarios where the singularity of meaning of individual rights can triumph over the plurality of meaning of the public interest.
Anuj Puri, The Meaning of Law, 49 J. Marshall L. Rev. 1077 (2016)