University of Pittsburgh

Extracting Case Law Sentences for Interpretation of Terms from Statutory Law

ISP graduate student
Friday, April 8, 2016 - 1:00pm - 1:30pm

In this talk we present the results from our experiments establishing the feasibility of assessing a sentence usefulness for an interpretation of a statutory term. In statutory law legislators regularly use vague, open-textured terms, abstract standards, principles, and values. When there are doubts about the meaning of a provision, a process of interpretation may help to resolve them. Court decisions apply statutory provisions to specific cases. This makes court decisions an ideal source of sentences clarifying the meaning of statutory terms. We focused on automatic assessment of case law sentences with respect to their usefulness for interpreting statutory terms. Our experiments confirm the hypothesis that by using linguistic features of the sentence (e.g., syntactic importance, rhetorical role, or attribution)  it is possible to determine how useful the sentence is for interpreting a term in a specific statutory provision. The agreement of a random forest classifier with the gold standard (.696) was quite close to the agreement between the human expert annotators (.746). This work is the first step toward a system designed to support interpretation of statutory terms.

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