Politics

Study Notes

Constitutional Interpretation

Level:
A Level
Board:
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Constitutional Interpretation, sometimes referred to as Judicial Interpretation, is the name given to the different viewpoints on the Constitution when it is applied to court cases and legislation.

There a numerous types of constitutional interpretation but the main ones are briefly outlined below.

Strict Constructionism

An interpretation that can be described as Strict Constructionism is one whereby justices would look at the precise wording on the Constitution in order to gather a meaning. Upon gathering a successful and clear meaning this must be applied to cases. There would be no need to read further into the matter or to infer details that are not explicitly stated. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the interpretation of the First Amendment by Associate Justice Hugo Black. Black followed this approach that Congress shall make no law…, therefore if Congress made a law which even looked as if it infringed upon the First Amendment, it should be struck down, with no further discussion.

Loose Constructionism

On the other side of the Constructionism coin is loose constructionism. This is in contrast to strict constructionism and believes that when interpreting the Constitution, justices should look wider than just the text of the Constitution and allow the Constitution to fit with the modern era. The basis of this argument is built upon the premise that the Founding Fathers could not envisage how modern society has developed, therefore the Constitution must be interpreted according to modern standards.

Originalism

Originalism is the approach taken to constitution interpretation whereby justices will seek to apply original meaning in the Constitution. This approach is criticised for the huge variety in historical interpretation that will come with this approach.

Founders Intent

In a similar vein to Originalism, the doctrine of Founders Intent states that justices, when applying constitutional interpretation will seek to apply the intentions of the Founders. This will of course vary depending on which Founder each justice were to choose. It suffers from the same criticism that Originalism does, in that the degrees of historical interpretation will vary.

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