Whose English should be used in the English-only drivers license exams that the Missouri House thinks Missouri needs? We plan to offer several possibilities in this series. Lawmakers are well aware that imprecision in the language of the law leads to decisions made by courts that usually are “activist courts” because they don’t rule the way this or that lawmaker or this or that special interest wants them to rule.
The importance of using precise language is underscored by the case of Benedict v. State of Missouri. The Journal of the Missouri Bar wrote about it in a column labeled “Proceed Not Incautiously” in its March-April, 1994 issue. We don’t know what judicial book citations mean but if you want to find this ruling it’s at 375 Mo.682.
“In the testator’s Last Will and Testament, duly admitted to probate, he gave, devised and bequeathed his home and personal effects to ‘my wife, Jane Benedict.’ He then went on to give, devise and bequeath all of the rest, residue and remainder of his estate to ‘my wife.’ Had he said, ‘my said wife’ his meaning would have been clear. But the absence of this crucial word created an ambiguity which could not be resolved within the four owners of the instrument. Did he have more than one wife, and, if so, to which did he refer?
The will is silent as to whether he was or was not of the Mormon faith. The law has no presumption of monogamy. The testator’s counsel has suggested that, if the residuary clause fails, the estate should go by intestacy. But it clear that the testator, by executing a will, expressed his intention that he not be intestate, and it is elementary that the testator’s intent must prevail. As pointed out by the Attorney General, the only remaining alternative is that the estate must escheat to the state, and we so rule.”
So you now see the misfortune that can come through the imprecise use of the very language the House wants to use for all drivers license examinations. Benedict v. State of Missouri demonstrates that it not only is it critical that the bill be clear in specifying WHOSE English is used, it will be critical to the examination process itself that the proper English be used and that the questions asked be unambiguous and definitive.
The bill now passes to the Missouri Senate which prides itself on cleaning up the slovenly products it receives from the House. The Missourinet will be at its post at the Senate press table, alertly watching the Senate add clarity and specificity to the bill the House has approved.
Next: If you don’t like the English of the judiciary, how about Bureaucrat English?