Interpreting the Constitution as it is intended

I don’t claim to be smarter or more insightful than any of the current Supreme Court Justices. Nor do I pretend to fully grasp the nuances of legal theory. It seems to me that the Constitution is not an overly complex document.

It’s baffling that the Constitution can be interpreted so dramatically differently by very bright, knowledgeable and experienced justices, all sworn to “bear true faith and allegiance” to it. More baffling is that such interpretation appears to move along the lines of the party affiliation of the appointing United States President.

Constitutional interpretation is a simple intellectual exercise using logic and analysis, legal reasoning and knowledge of Constitutional history and Supreme Court case law.

How is it then, that nine brilliant justices, could be so divided when deciding a question of constitutionality?

I can understand if perhaps one out-of-touch justice reads or applies precedent a little differently. However, when one set of justices, recognized as liberal are on one side of an issue and a second set of justices, recognized as conservative are diametrically opposed, one can only conclude that personal beliefs and values are at play. Objective rational judgments do not normally break along philosophical lines. Such weighty judgments should be unbiased by personal preferences, sympathies, or political considerations.

Justices, particularly those of the progressive bent, seem to find novel ways to rationalize constitutionality. In United States v. Lopez, involving federal charges under the Gun Free School Zone Act, Justice David Souter stated that he judged laws to be constitutional if he believed that Congress’s judgment under the Commerce Clause was within “the realm of reason”.

I recall listening to the confirmation hearings of several of the justices. Without exception, they all assert that their judgments will be based on the facts of a case and established precedent and will be faithful to the Constitution. They consistently assert that personal biases or ideologies will not affect their decisions. That being the case, one would like to think that most of the Court’s judgments would be nine to zero or at worst, eight to one.

It is my opinion that the people, and the states, from whose consent the federal government derives its power, must make abundantly clear, the powers we wish to grant to the central government through the Constitution. Let’s amend the Constitution to specifically define the lawmaking authority we wish to bestow on the Congress. Then, when in the course of Congressional events, a law is passed whose constitutionality is questioned, the justices should have a very much simpler task requiring very little “interpretation” of the Constitution; a simple reading will do.

Douglas J. Lising, author of Remember Roscoe Filburne