American laws & courts
Judicial philosophies: More comments
on strict constructionalism, etc.
Further comments on strict constructionalism:
Viewing the Bill of Rights and the rest of the U.S.
Constitution as an enduring document means that the justices consider the
society's values and the authors' intent during the era in which the text was
actually written. When the original U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights
(the first ten amendments to the Constitution) were written:
were excluded from many professions.
||Women were denied the right to vote or
run for office.
||Spousal abuse was very largely ignored.
||Marital rape was not recognized.
||Many African Americans were not allowed to marry.
||Inter-racial couples were not allowed to marry.
||Human slavery was an
||Children were often subjected to extreme physical punishment,
||Homosexuals were jailed and sometimes executed.
||Marital divorces were severely restricted and rare.
On matters such as abortion access, the
death penalty, equal rights for gays and lesbians, and
other "hot" topics, there has been considerable
change during the intervening centuries. However, today's understanding and is immaterial
when it comes to interpretation of the Constitution as an enduring document.
Bruce Hausknecht, spokesperson for the Fundamentalist Christian group for
Focus on the Family
Action, said that conservatives hoped President Bush would nominate a
strict-constructionist to replace Justice O'Connor, who resigned in mid-2005. He said:
looking for a nominee who will uphold the Constitution as it is written, an
originalist who looks at the text of the Constitution and interprets it in
accordance with the original meaning given to it. What that means in
today's terms is a judge who doesn't add to or subtract from the
Constitution based on what he or she thinks is necessary for society
today. The Constitution doesn't 'evolve.' " 1
Further comments on analogies to the religion:
A strict constructionist approach to the constitution and legislation bears
many points of similarity to a literalist or fundamentalist interpretation of
religious documents. Within Christianity, for example, many fundamentalist and
other evangelical believers regard the Bible as being God's word: text written
by human beings under the inspiration of God and thus inerrant (without error).
They concentrate on the meaning of passages as they were written down by their
authors thousands of years ago.
Perceiving the constitution and legislation as living documents bears many
points of similarity to more liberal interpretation of religious documents.
Within Christianity, for example, many believers view the Bible as containing
attempts by the author to promote their religious and spiritual beliefs. Some of
this material was of significance only for the late bronze-age, pre-scientific
tribal culture in which the books were written. Some biblical passages are
regarded as profoundly immoral if applied to today's culture.
Vincent Crapanzano, a professor of anthropology and comparative literature at
the Graduate Faculty of CUNY, has written a book titled "Serving the Word:
Literalism in America from the Pulpit to the Bench." It discusses literalism as
a judicial and religious philosophy. 2Publishers Weekly's review of the book
states, in part:
"Crapanzano's main beef with these champions of literalism, be they ministers
or judges, is that they have no concept of 'an openness to the position of the
other,' which he sees as essential to democracy. ... In saying that no
generation should be hampered by the strictures of a previous one, Thomas
Jefferson argued that we must not ask a grown man to wear the jacket that fitted
him as boy, but in Crapanzano's view, the literalists are trying to cripple
democracy by cramming the present into the straitjacket of the past."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Aaron Atwood, "President May Announce Supreme Court Nominee Shortly,"
Citizen Link, Focus on the Family, 2005-JUL-18.
Vincent Crapanzano, "Serving the Word: Literalism in America from the Pulpit
to the Bench," New Press (2001). Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Copyright © 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2009-JUL-17
Author: B.A. Robinson