Justice Joseph Story Confirms: ‘Words of the Constitution Do Have Meaning’

I will go into elaboration on this, however let this phrase from Justice Joseph Story’s ‘Commentaries on the Constitution’ speak for itself while also providing further evidence that the founding fathers did not wish to draft a constitution so obscure that the common man could not understand it:

 (snip)

§ 183.  II.  In construing the constitution of the United States, we are, in the first instance, to consider, what are its nature and objects, its scope and design, as apparent from the structure of the instrument, viewed as a whole, and also viewed in its component parts.  Where its words are plain, clear, and determinate, they require no interpretation; and it should, therefore, be admitted, if at all, with great caution, and only from necessity, either to escape some absurd consequence, or to guard against some fatal evil. 

(snip)

§ 188.  IV. From the foregoing considerations we deduce the conclusion, that as a frame or fundamental law of government, (2.) The constitution of the United States is to receive a reasonable interpretation of its language, and its powers, keeping in view the objects and purposes, for which those powers were conferred.  By a reasonable interpretation, we mean, that in case the words are susceptible of two different senses, the one strict, the other more enlarged, that should be adopted, which is most consonant with the apparent objects and intent of the constitution; that which will give it efficacy and force, as a government, rather than that, which will impair its operations, and reduce it to a state of imbecility.  Of course we do not mean, that the words for this purpose are to be strained beyond their common and natural sense; but keeping within that limit, the exposition is to have a fair and just latitude, so as on the one hand to avoid obvious mischief, and on the other hand to promote the public good.

(snip)

§ 210.  XV. In the first place, then, every word employed in the constitution is to be expounded in its plain, obvious, and common sense, unless the context furnishes some ground to control, qualify, or enlarge it.  Constitutions are not designed for metaphysical or logical subtleties, for niceties of expression, for critical propriety, for elaborate shades of meaning, or for the exercise of philosophical acuteness, or juridical research.  They are instruments of a practical nature, founded on the common business of human life, adapted to common wants, designed for common use, and fitted for common understandings.  The people make them; the people adopt them; the people must be supposed to read them, with the help of common sense; and cannot be presumed to admit in them any recondite meaning, or any extraordinary gloss.

Click here to read Justice Story’s abridged commentary on the ‘Rules of Constitutional Interpretation’.

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