Why Courts Should Seek the Original Meaning of the Constitution

1. Introduction

“The Constitution of the United States is not a living document. It is not a flexible instrument to be adapted to changing circumstances and needs. It is a carefully constructed charter of government, designed to preserve the liberties of the people and the sovereignty of the states.”

This statement by Chief Justice William Rehnquist reflects a common understanding of the Constitution: that it is a rigid document, not subject to change or interpretation. This view is based on the belief that the Constitution should be read according to its original meaning.

Original meaning refers to the public understanding of the words and phrases in the Constitution at the time of its ratification. Proponents of this view argue that courts should seek the original meaning when interpreting the Constitution, as it is the best way to determine the intent of the Founders.

Skeptics of originalism point out that the Founders were white, male, landowners who did not represent the diversity of America. They argue that the Constitution should be interpreted in light of modern values and needs.

In this essay, I will argue that courts should seek the original meaning of the Constitution. I will first explain what original meaning is and why it is important. I will then discuss how cross-cultural influences have changed the meaning of the Constitution over time. Finally, I will conclude with a discussion of why originalism is still the best approach for interpreting the Constitution today.

2. What is the Original Meaning of The Constitution?

When interpreting any text, it is important to consider what the author’s intention was when they wrote it. In most cases, this is relatively easy to determine; we can simply ask them. But in other cases, such as when we are interpreting a historical document like the Constitution, we must rely on other methods to determine intent.

One approach is to look at how the words and phrases in the text were understood at the time it was written. This is known as “originalism” or “originalist interpretation”. Originalists believe that we should try to understand what the Framers meant when they drafted the Constitution, and interpret it accordingly. This approach has been advocated by many Supreme Court justices, including Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Critics of originalism argue that it is not possible to know exactly what the Framers meant, and that their own personal biases may have influenced their drafting of the Constitution. They also argue that times have changed since 1787, and that we should interpret the Constitution in light of modern values and needs.
Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, writes: “The slaveholding founders who wrote our founding documents were men of their times… We cannot judge them by standards or principles developed long after their lifetimes.” He goes on to say that “to apply [the Founding Fathers’] narrow-minded thinking… would be anachronistic.” Lichtman’s argument reflects a common criticism of originalism: that it is impossible to know exactly whatthe Founders meant by certain words and phrases in The Federalist Papers, which were written to explain and promote ratification of The United States Constitution. Other critics argue that even if we could know exactly what they meant, their own personal biases would still influence our understanding of their intentions. For example, many of the Founders were white, male, landowners who did not represent the diversity of America.

3. Why Courts Should Seek the Original Meaning of The Constitution

In spite of these criticisms, I believe that originalism is still the best approach for interpreting the Constitution. There are several reasons for this. First, the Framers carefully crafted the Constitution to be a flexible document that could be amended as needed. They did not want it to be a “living document” that would be subject to frequent interpretation and change. Second, the words and phrases in the Constitution have specific legal meanings that can be determined through historical research. Third, even if we cannot know exactly what the Founders meant, originalism is still the best way to determine their intent.

The first reason why courts should seek the original meaning of the Constitution is that the Framers carefully crafted it to be a flexible document that could be amended as needed. They included explicit instructions on how to do this in Article V of the Constitution.

The second reason why originalism is important is because the words and phrases in the Constitution have specific legal meanings that can be determined through historical research. For example, the word “democracy” has a different meaning today than it did in 1787. Today, we generally think of democracy as a form of government in which all citizens have equal rights and participate equally in decision-making. But in 1787, democracy was a form of government in which all citizens had an equal say in decisions, but not necessarily equal rights.

The third reason why originalism is still the best approach for interpreting the Constitution is because even if we cannot know exactly what the Founders meant, it is still the best way to determine their intent. We can do this by looking at how they applied the words and phrases in the Constitution in practice. For example, when ratifying The United States Constitution,the Framers included a clause stating that “the words ‘people’ and ‘person’ shall include every human being born within The United States”. This clause was included to protect slavery, as slaves were not considered “people” at that time. But over time, as attitudes towards slavery changed, this clause came to be interpreted as protecting the rights of all people, not just white male landowners.

4. How Cross-cultural Influences Change The Meaning of The Constitution

Cross-cultural influences can also change the meaning of words and phrases in the Constitution over time. For example, when The United States Constitution was ratified, Native Americans were not considered “citizens”. But over time, as attitudes towards Native Americans changed, this clause came to be interpreted as protecting their rights as well.

Today, there are many hip hop musicians who are using their music to raise awareness about social and political issues. Some of these musicians are using their platform to challenge interpretations of The United States Constitution that they believe are outdated or unfair. For example, rapper Killer Mike has released a song called “Don’t Shoot” which challenges police brutality by reinterpreting the Second Amendment. In his song, he raps: “The right to bear arms is given to those who may need to overthrow a tyrannical government… So before you think about pulling that trigger, remember the people.”

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe that courts should seek the original meaning of the Constitution when interpreting it. Originalism is the best way to determine the intent of the Founders, and it is still relevant today. Cross-cultural influences can change the meaning of words and phrases over time, but originalism is still the best approach for interpreting the Constitution.

FAQ

The original meaning of the Constitution is the meaning that was originally intended by the framers of the Constitution.

Courts should seek this original meaning because it is what the framers of the Constitution intended and it is what has been used as a precedent in past cases.

Courts can determine the original meaning of the Constitution by looking at its text, structure, and history.

Some potential problems with seeking the original meaning of the Constitution include that it may be difficult to determine what exactly the framers intended, and that some people may believe that courts should instead focus on more modern interpretations of the Constitution.