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Is a Literal Interpretation of The Constitution Possible

Conservatives love to claim that a document written 230 years ago is still the doctrine that we the people should live by. Former Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia once said, “The Constitution is a dead document. It is an enduring document that does not change.”


What if this was true Would any non-white rich man be able to vote or own land or have a thriving career As we close this week where we celebrate our nation’s birthday most Liberals need to beg the question: how important should the Constitution be in the 21st century

Ryan Cooper, national correspondent for The Week, argues there is no way to confirm where a group of men who lived 230 years ago would stand on issues that are so intertwined with the advancements that construct society today. He writes: “It was a time before mass democracy, before mass production and industrial capitalism; before electricity and radio; before coal, oil, trains, planes, and the automobile; before the transistor, computing, and the internet … It’s senseless to try to predict what James Madison would think about, say, the proper regulation of internet platform monopolies.” Cooper then gives the example of the 14th Amendment and its proceeding amendment, which give Blacks the right to vote. Conservatives used their strict interpretation of the constitution to spur the notorious Jim Crow system.

According to linguists, it is virtually impossible to read text without making interpretations. As Cooper writes, “When you read words — especially very old words — you must apply thoughts from your own mind to construct meaning from them. But you cannot access the mind of another person, especially one who has been dead for two centuries.” Comparing the forefathers to the people who lived at the time of the Bible, Cooper argues that the whole reason they built in the disclaimer that allows for people to personally interpret is because they foresaw the evolution of society.

Whether we should be allowed to interpret the constitution is itself up for interpretation, but is it time that we govern based on our own morals As Cooper writes: “Conservatives could simply try to argue moral and political principles and how they are consonant with America’s legal traditions. But it’s a lot easier to just point at their own particular interests and shout ‘Constitutional!’ until they’re blue in the face.”

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