Mazzuca Battle for the bench is about interpreting the Constitution (column) |

Mazzuca Battle for the bench is about interpreting the Constitution (column)

Butch Mazzuca
My View

Constitutional law has been debated since the founding, but in essence, the matter of interpreting the Constitution boils down to two schools of thought.

• Conservatives argue the Constitution should be interpreted literally and changed only through the amendment process.

• Progressives believe that interpreting the Constitution in accordance with its original intent is sometimes unacceptable as a matter of policy and, therefore, an evolving interpretation is necessary.

The upcoming fight in the Senate over the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court isn’t about gay rights, voting rights, health insurance or women’s reproductive rights. It’s about interpreting the Constitution. And a suitable starting point for the debate might be to first examine the words of our Founding Fathers.

“If it be asked, what is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be an inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws.” — Alexander Hamilton

“On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” — Thomas Jefferson

“To take a single step beyond the text would be to take possession of a boundless field of power.” — Thomas Jefferson

“Let us not make it a blank paper by construction. … If it is, then we have no Constitution.” — Thomas Jefferson

“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. … If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation (which) is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” — George Washington

“The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it.” — James Wilson

“Can it be of less consequence that the meaning of a Constitution should be fixed and known, than a meaning of a law should be so?” — James Madison (architect of the Constitution)

Meanwhile, there are significant historical figures with opposing views, i.e. …

“Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop. All that progressives ask or desire is permission — in an era when ‘development,’ ‘evolution,’ is the scientific word — to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle. — Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States

“The words of the Constitution … are so unrestricted by their intrinsic meaning or by their history or by tradition or by prior decisions that they leave the individual justice free, if indeed they do not compel him, to gather meaning not from reading the Constitution but from reading life.” — Felix Frankfurter, Supreme Court justice

“The United States Constitution has proved itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

“It is the genius of our Constitution that under its shelter of enduring institutions and rooted principles there is ample room for the rich fertility of American political invention.” — Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th president of the United States

“The Constitution is a living document; no strict constructionism.” — Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

Each of us will make up our own mind, but considering the foregoing, I tend to agree with the words of our Founding Fathers.

Quote of the day: “Just talk to me as a father — not what the Constitution says. What do you feel?” — Joe Biden, 47th vice president of the United States

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at