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What is a Negative Pregnant?

Alexis W.
Alexis W.

Negative pregnant, also called a pregnant denial, occurs when an individual makes a statement that is an attempt to deny something, but which in effect affirms it. For example, an example of negative pregnant would occur if an individual said "I never eat oranges in bed." The addition of the words "in bed" suggests that the individual eats oranges elsewhere besides in bed.

The concept of negative pregnant is very important in statutory interpretation. Statutory interpretation occurs when the courts attempt to understand and interpret the words of the legislature that made the statute. Because legislation by its nature is imperfect and cannot cover every single situation, some degree of interpretation is always necessary to grasp the full meaning of a statute. As such, rules — such as the concept of pregnant denials — have been created to help the courts perform the process of statutory interpretation.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Assume, for example, that a statute stated that people in the park were forbidden from riding their bikes on the left side of the street. Because the words of the statute specifically said that bike riding was forbidden "on the left side of the street," it stands to reason that bike riding is permitted on the right side of the street. Thus, the court would interpret the statute to mean that individuals had the legal right under the statute to ride their bikes on the right hand side, even though the statute did not ever explicitly come out and say that.

The concept of negative pregnant became important in the court's interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII reads that it "shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State." Justice Marhsall, in his dissent, suggested that the addition of the words "with respect to employment of aliens outside of any state" meant that the clause applied only to the employment of aliens. In other words, Title VII would apply outside of the United States — just not to aliens. This would mean that Title VII applied to employers outside of the US who employed US citizens.

In addition to statutory interpretation, the concept of negative pregnant can also occur when an individual is being questioned in a court case. For example, if a witness stated "I did not see him steal the cookie on Tuesday," then the logical question for the lawyers to follow up with would be "Did you see him steal the cookie at any other time besides Tuesday?" When an answer given in a deposition or interrogatory or on the witness stand contains a pregnant denial, further follow-up questions are almost always appropriate.

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