The interpretation of the United States Constitution often falls into two dominant philosophies: strict constructionism and the living document approach. In a nutshell, strict constructionism demands a literal and narrow interpretation of the Constitution, adhering closely to the text as it was originally written. On the other hand, the living document approach champions the idea that the Constitution must adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of our society.
The Need for Strict Constructionism
Arguably, strict constructionism is the only logical method for Supreme Court justices to interpret, apply, and protect the Constitution. This approach recognizes the Constitution as a legal anchor for societal, legal, and moral disputes. The purpose is not to convert the Supreme Court into a third political branch, but to maintain its role as a neutral arbiter in contentious legal issues.
The role of Supreme Court justices is not to be unelected philosopher dictators, but rather more like glorified librarians—staunch knights safeguarding the sanctity of the Constitution. Their job is to interpret the Constitution faithfully and objectively, ensuring societal stability by providing trusted and consistent judgments.
The Politics of Interpretation
The challenge arises when the Supreme Court employs inherently subjective methods of interpretation, like the living document approach. This has the unfortunate effect of politicalizing the Court, since it allows justices to interpret the Constitution based on their personal beliefs or the societal trends of the day.
The fact that the average nonlawyer person expects the Supreme Court to take political stances on issues is concerning and suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the Court’s role. This misperception is largely due to the subjectivity introduced by the living document approach, which can blur the line between constitutional analysis and political advocacy.
Strict Constructionism in Action: Two Case Studies
Two cases highlight the importance of strict constructionism in action. The first, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022), saw the Supreme Court rightly point out that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution and that it is therefore up to individual states to regulate. The ruling drew fierce criticism from liberals, who seemingly expected the Court to adopt a political stance. Yet the Court was correct in taking an impartial and logical approach, based strictly on the text of the Constitution.
The second case, Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012), involved the Supreme Court upholding the individual mandate of Obama’s healthcare law. Here, Chief Justice Roberts took a strict constructionist approach to interpret the Constitution’s taxation clause, ruling in favor of the mandate despite probable personal disagreement. He was widely criticized by conservatives, but I believe he deserves applause for setting aside politics in favor of logic. I discuss this more in my previous blog post.
In conclusion, treating the Supreme Court as a political branch and permitting subjective methods of interpretation feeds into the divisiveness of our nation. When the Supreme Court, our nation’s role model, uses a subjective approach to interpret the Constitution, it dilutes the notion of legal truth and logic, fostering skepticism and division among citizens.
Embracing strict constructionism ensures that the Constitution serves as a steadfast legal anchor, bolstering the credibility of the Supreme Court as an impartial and trusted arbiter. We must champion the return to a strict constructionist approach to restore faith in our legal system and to preserve the integrity of the U.S. Supreme Court.
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