Thursday, October 13, 2005

Interpreting documents

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman debunks myths surrounding the Constitution. William Cooper writes on how the judiciary has strayed from its proper role.

Plus, is the meaning of a document whatever the reader interprets it to be? Shockingly, many have essentially accepted this notion, and Michael Bauman shows how absurd it is. Even more shockingly, it is that very question that is at the heart of the current debate about the judiciary.

Once it is determined that a document means whatever the reader says it means, that document ceases to have a purpose. In reality, of course, communication is supposed to convey a particular meaning to whoever is receiving it. By definition, the receiver doesn't invest a message with its meaning; the sender does. This is so obvious that we assume it all the time. As we must.

When applied to the judiciary, this reader-centered interpretation means that we, in effect, have no Constitution at all. So all who advocate a "living Constitution" reject something so fundamental that they can't even accept the American government. The system our founders set up contradicts their philosophy.

It really doesn't matter whether a judge is "pro-life," or what position they take on other important political, cultural, and moral issues. They just have to accept one fundamental truth about the world - that is, they must understand the nature of meaning (just like a five-year-old!). Applying certain meanings is what their job is all about. Unfortunately, many judges don't accept this requisite truth, making their own jobs irrelevant. So they become super-legislators and tyrants.

Of course, the rejection of the truth about meaning can easily coincide with, e.g., support for abortion, both being part of a total worldview. It's possible, then, that a judicial nominee's religious beliefs (which provide a certain worldview) can shed some light on his or her manner of interpreting the Constitution. (Meaning that Harriet Miers's Christian faith is of legitimate interest to originalists like myself.)

See this recent post on postmodernism. Plus, this post includes much more on the judiciary and interpreting the Constitution.

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