Monday, September 12, 2011

Stone and Marshall on Constitutional Interpretation

The American Constitution Society just released an issue brief by Geoffrey Stone (Chicago) and William Marshall (UNC) titled The Framers' Constitution: Toward a Theory of Principled Constitutionalism.  Stone and Marshall write that constitutional interpretation according to the Framers' Constitution has two essential elements: First, courts should generally defer to the will of the majority; but second, courts should depart from this deference to "protect our most fundamental freedoms and guard against those malfunctions of majority governance that most concerned the Framers."

Stone and Marshall argue that this approach "reflects the fundamental values and aspirations of those who framed the American Constitution over the course of more than two centuries and strikes the proper balance between judicial restraint and judicial activism by focusing on the circumstances in which judicial review is necessary to preserve our constitutional liberties and limitations." 

But values and aspirations aren't all they look to:

In the end, of course, constitutional interpretation is not a mechanical enterprise.  It requires judges to exercise judgment.  It calls upon them to consider text; history; precedent; values; changing social, economic, technological, and cultural conditions; and the practical realities of the times.  Above all, it must be grounded in an understanding of the judiciary's unique strengths and weaknesses and in a proper appreciation of the most fundamental reasons for judicial review.  Courts must have the authority to invalidate acts of the elected branches of government, not so they can pursue conservative or liberal agendas, but so they can serve as an essential check on the dangers of majoritarian dysfunction.  This understanding of constitutional interpretation was central to much of the work of the Warren Court and it has long been central to the progressive understanding of constitutional law.


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