Vestigial Words Law and Legal Definition
Vestigial words are words and phrases that technically appear in statutes, but lack use or meaning because amendments or other statutes have diminished their effect.
In the case quoted below, a military officer sued for reinstatement after being discharged from the Rhode Island Army National Guard under a selective retention policy. The military officer alleged a due process violation, claiming that a property right was taken away without due process of law. The alleged property right came from a Rhode Island statute that guaranteed retention for all officers of the "staff corps and departments" until 60 years of age. The officer was only 46. In ruling against the officer, the court used the concept of vestigial words: "[W]e find that the term 'staff corps and departments' is a vestigial term that cannot fairly be construed to have any meaning in modern military organization or application to presently commissioned officers. This Court is constrained to make such a conclusion because history has wrought such substantial change to the organization and structure of the United States Army and the RIANG [Rhode Island Army National Guard]."[Wigginton v. Centracchio, 304 F.3d 55, 62 (1st Cir. 2002)].