An early instance of Strict Constitutional interpretation was when Thomas Jefferson was in opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s proposal for a national bank. Thomas Jefferson’s reasoning behind his opposition was that while Article I of the Constitution grants Congress the authority necessary to print money and whatever else is necessary for the printing of it, the Constitution does not explicitly grant authority to Congress to create a bank. By giving more priority to what the Constitution said outright, instead of what it implied, Jefferson was reading the Constitution in a Constructionist manner.
A more recent example of Loose Constructionism is the case: National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (1937). In this case, an associate of the Amalgamated Association of Iron & Tin Workers of America claimed to the NLRB that the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation fired ten employees for union activity. The NLRB ordered Jones & Laughlin to rehire the ten employees but the corporation refused. Jones & Laughlin claimed that the NLRB was unconstitutional on the grounds that it governed labor relations instead of commerce. By using a Loose Interpretation, the court came to the decision that since the steel industry was such a vital part of the national economy, it was absolutely necessary to interpret the Commerce Clause in such a way that Congress could have the authority to regulate it in order to not have any internal issues that externally affect the national economy.
An example of Living Constitution would be the case: Lochner v. New York (1905). In the case of Lochner v. New York, a man petitioned the Supreme Court to hear his case on the grounds that a recently passed law that was enacted to prevent physical harm to himself and that would prevent him from working the hours that he wanted to (less than 60 hours), violated his right to freedom of contract with an employer. The Court used a Living Constitution interpretation to decide the case in the way that brought the Constitution into the 20th century.
Lastly, an instance of the Framer’s intent interpretation would be the case: Heller v. District of Columbia (2008). In Heller v. District of Columbia, it was found unconstitutional, on the grounds of the Second Amendment, to outright ban the sale of handguns and placing requirements on the storage of other firearms. Framer’s intent was used in helping to decide this case and is best exemplified by Justice Scalia’s opinion: The Second Amendment provides:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In interpreting this text, we are guided by the principle that “[t]he Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning… normal meaning may of course include an idiomatic meaning, but it excludes secret or technical meanings that would not have been known to ordinary citizens in the founding generation” (Scalia 2008).
The opinion of Justice Scalia is exemplary of the idea of Framer’s intent because instead of focusing on bringing the past to the present, he focuses on trying to maintain the same principles from the past in the present.
While many Supreme Court cases and decisions have gone largely unnoticed by the general population, the decisions still have a profound impact on the day-to-day life of an individual. What is driving all of the decisions made in the Court ultimately comes down to nine individual’s interpretation of a document from 1789.
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