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GENERAL RULES

OF

CONSTRUCTION AND INTERPRETATION

OF THE

CONSTITUTION OF THE

UNITED STATES

CONSTRUCTION AND INTERPRETATION OF THE

CONSTITUTION.

General rules.-Chief Justice Marshall, in the celebrated case of McCulloch v. Maryland (4 Wheat. 316), said “ We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.” It is the Constitution of the United States, and that instrument contains the powers and all of the powers that were granted by the people of the then existing states to the general government. Other powers have been granted to the general government only by amendment of the Constitution. Therefore, those powers are limited. The Chief Justice said (p. 421):

We admit, as all must admit, that the powers of the Government are limited, and that its limits are not to be transcended. But we think the sound construction of the Constitution must allow to the National Legislature that discretion, with respect to the means by which the powers it confers are to be carried into execution, which will enable that body to perform the high duties assigned to it, in the manner most beneficial to the people. Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.

See also Fairbank v. U. S., 181 U. S., 283, Broadly speaking, a constitution is an instrument of government made and adopted by the people for practical purposes. The Constitution of the United States is a grant of power. It should be construed so as best to subserve the great objects for which it was made, and, like every other grant of power, should have a reasonable construction according to its terms, as defined in the vocabulary of the people which adopted it. The safest rule for interpreting the Constitution is to look to the nature and objects of the particular powers, duties, and rights, with all the aids of contemporary history, and to give to the words of each just such operation and force, consistent with their legitimate meaning, as may fairly secure and attain the ends proposed. The very object of constitutional construction is to give effect to the intention of the framers of the instrument, and to the intent of the people in adopting it, and this intent, together with the general scope of the particular provision, is to be kept constantly in view.

Metropolitan Bank v. Van Dyck, 27 N. Y. 400.
Spooner v. McConnell, 1 McLean, 337.
Jarrolt v. Moberly, 103 U, S. 586.
Martin v. Hunter, 1 Wheat. 326.
Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 16 Pet. 610.
Lake County v. Rollins, 130 U. S. 670.
Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 188.

1 See, also, Art. III, sec, 1, Controlling effect of decisions," p. 420.

No court is authorized so to construe a clause of the Constitution as to defeat its obvious ends, when another construction, equally accordant with the words and sense, will enforce and protect those ends. Where words admit of different intendments, that must be selected which is most consonant to the object in view. If a case is within the letter of the Constitution it is not to be excluded from its meaning by showing that it was not in the minds of those who framed and adopted it; it is further necessary to show that, had the case been suggested, the language would have been changed so as to except it. It must receive a practical construction, and is not to be viewed technically. Its terms are not to be nullified or evaded by astute verbal criticism without regard to the aim and objects of the instrument and the principles on which it was based. It should be so construed as to give effect to its different clauses, as far as possible to reconcile them, and not allow their seeming repugnancy to destroy them.

Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 16 Pet. 612.
Aldrich v. Kinney, 4 Conn. 380.
Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 644.
Railroad Co. v. Peniston, 18 Wall, 31.
People v. Dawell, 25 Mich. 247.
Passenger Cases, 7 How. 283.

Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 395. The rule of construction that what is implied is as much a part of the instrument as what is expressed, applies to the Federal Constitution, because of the inherent inability to put into words all derivative powers; but a court has no right to insert anything in the Constitution which is not expressed and which can not fairly be implied, and when the text of a constitutional provision is not ambiguous, the courts are not at liberty to search for its meaning beyond the instrument itself. Affirmative words often imply a negative of other objects than those affirmed, and an exception of any particular case presupposes that those which are not excepted are embraced within the grant or prohibition. Where no exception is made in terms, none will be made by implication or construction.

Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U. S. 658.
Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 16 Pet. 613.
Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 173.
Rhode Island v. Massachusetts, 12 Pet. 722.

Construction in light of the common law.–The scope and effect of a constitutional provision is often best ascertained by bearing in mind what the law was before, and a provision afterwards changed by amendment should be considered in construing the amendment. The history of the time when a provision was framed and adopted should be examined to determine the old law, the mischief and the remedy, and where it is undoubted that the object of a clause was to incorporate into the instrument certain principles which had become permanently fixed in the law of the mother country, the construction of those principles by the English courts is useful in determining their scope. The construction of many clauses of the Constitution must be had in the light of the common law, unless by a series of decisions by the Supreme Court and the construction

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