•  
  •  
 

Abstract

Debate over proper methods of constitutional interpretation is interminable, in part because the Constitution seems not to tell us how it should be interpreted. I argue here that this appearance is misleading. The Constitution repeatedly refers to itself with the phrase “this Constitution,” and claims to make itself supreme law of the land. Debates over what should be supreme for constitutional interpretation can be resolved if but only if, we have a sufficiently-detailed understanding of what the Constitution is. I consider seven possibilities for what might be the interpretively-supreme “Constitution”: (1) the original expected applications;(2) the original ultimate purposes;(3) the original textually-expressed meaning or Fregean sense (the alternative I favor);(4) a collection of evolving common law concepts;(5) a text expressing meaning by today's linguistic conventions;(6) a collection of moral concepts refined through an evolving tradition of moral philosophy;and (7) a collection of non-binding recommendations. Resolving between these alternatives is possible if, but only if, we know that “this Constitution” means. The phrase “this Constitution” on its own is not perfectly perspicuous;the “this Union” clause in Article TV shows that “this” can refer to entities that are neither composed of text nor fixed and unchanging. It is not immediately clear what event — what “constituting” — the word “Constitution” refers to. Canvassing in detail the indexical language of the federal and state Constitutions, I argue that the Constitution is composed of language whose meaning is fixed at the time of the Founding. The close textual relationship of “this Constitution” to forms of “here” and to “enumerate” and explicit references in state constitutions to “this Constitution” appearing on parchment, including bits of language, and doing things “expressly” all point toward a Constitution that is composed of language, and so to textualism. The use of “now,” the distinction in the Preamble between “ourselves” and “our posterity,” the specification in the Preamble and Article VII of ratifying conventions as the constitutional author, and the reference to “the time of the Adoption of this Constitution” all point toward a non-intergenerationally-authored constitution that speaks at the time of the Founding and is historically fixed. This Constitution... shall be the supreme Law of the Land;and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby...(FN1) The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution...(FN2) Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Share

COinS
 

To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.