Should the constitution by interpreted in terms of the original mention of the Founders rather than the morality of society today?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

We should not try to interpret the Constitution according to the intent of the Framers.  It is both impossible and inappropriate.

It is not possible to interpret the Constitution based on the Framers' ideas.  We do not know exactly what they were thinking.  And whose intent do we go on?  The people who wrote the words?  The people who ratified them?  It is impossible to know the thoughts of these people.

It is also inappropriate.  Just for example, should we allow people to be hung in public?  The Framers would have been fine with that.  Values change and so must the Constitution.

jmj616's profile pic

jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Your question is really a tough one.

I tend to lean toward a fairly "strict constructionist" view; that is, that the Constitution should be interpreted according to our best attempts to understand what the meaning of the written words is. 

I feel that if we insert too much of present-day "morality" into the interpretation of the Constitution, we will soon not have much of a Constitution left at all.  That doesn't mean that present-day standards are not important; it just means that they should not become constitutional absolutes.

For example, let's take the question of whether a woman has a right to abortion.  I really fail to see where the Constitution does or does not grant this right.  So, I feel that each state or municipality should have the right either to outlaw abortion, or to legalize it, or to regulate it.  And furthermore, since this is not (in my opinion) a constitutional issue, the states should be able to change their minds about this question as often as they like--just as they can change their minds about tax levels, traffic fines, legal drinking age, divorce law, and thousands of other matters of policy. 

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Much of how an individual views this response is dependent on whether or not an individual believes in the strict or loose interpretation of the Constitution.  On one level, those who favor a strict interpretation of the Constitution suggest that the document should be read as it would be during the time of the Framers.  Accordingly, the assertion that follows is one that implies that the moral and political frame of reference was appropriate.  In my own mind, I have to diverge from this because the framers represented a vision of America that failed to speak for women, people of color, different forms of the spiritual notions of the good, poor individuals, and the voices of dissent.  America, during the time of the framers, was much more homogeneous than the America of today, which is why I believe that the interpretation of the Constitution has to reflect the setting in which it is place without vitiating its essence.

epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

Though the framers left extensive papers in many forms about their ideas for a new country, the framers of the US Constitution knew exactly the importance of the document that were creating and realized how important it would be in the early days of the United States. They adopted specific provisions concerning many specific things, but they were also future-oriented realizing that the people's will could change or become different so they allowed for amendments to be made. This amendment process was most prudent in the light in which it was first created. The US Constitution can now be flexible, reactive to society's changing state, and allow for the will of the people to be expressed.

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