Law and Politics

Start Free Trial

How should the Constitution be interpreted?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are two main schools of thought with regard to this issue. 

The first, and more conservative, school of thought is the “original intent” school.  In this view, the Constitution should be interpreted in the way that the Framers meant it to be read.  The Framers’ intent, it is argued, can be determined in various ways and that intent should be followed.  The argument for this goes as follows.  First, the Framers’ intent was the basis on which this country was founded.  We should abide by their intentions because they were brilliant thinkers who set up a great system.  Second, if we do feel that we must change the Constitution, we should do it through the amendment process.  If the Supreme Court simply decides that the Constitution’s meaning has changed, it is a much less democratic process than changing it through the amendment process.  Judges should be restrained, not activist.

The second, more liberal school of thought is that we should interpret the Constitution based on its more general principles.  We should identify the fundamental principles behind the Constitution and then apply them to our circumstances today.  We should not force ourselves to be bound by the ideas of people from a time when things like slavery, the subjugation of women, and property qualifications for voting were seen as natural aspects of society.  What is more, we could not determine the “original intent” of the Framers even if we tried.  In this point of view, judges should be more activist so that they can keep the Constitution as a “living document.”

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team