Between the Civil War and World War II, every state and the federal government shifted toward codified versions of their statutes. Academia has so far ignored the systemic effects of this dramatic change. For example, the consensus view in the academic literature about rules and standards has been that precise rules present higher enactment costs for legislatures than would general standards, while vague standards present higher information costs for courts and citizens than do rules. Systematic codification—featuring hierarchical format and numbering, topical arrangement, and cross-references—inverts this relationship, lowering transaction costs for legislatures and increasing information costs for courts and citizens as statutes proliferate. This Article takes a first look at this problem. On the legislative side, codification makes it easier for special interest groups to obtain their desired legislation. It facilitates Coasean bargaining between legislators and encourages legislative borrowing, which diminishes the laboratories of democracy phenomenon. For the courts,codification changes how judges interpret statutes, prompting them to focus more on the meaning of individual words than on the overall policy goals of enactment and to rely more on external sources, such as legislative history. For both legislators and courts, codification functions as a Hartian rule of recognition, signaling legality for enacted rules. For the citizenry, the reduced legislative costs mean increased legislative output, yielding rapid proliferation of statutes and unmanageable legal information costs. More disturbingly, codification also fosters overcriminalization. While it may not be appropriate to revert to the precodified regime now, reexamining the unintended effects of codification can inform present and future choices for our legal system.
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