Interpretation, Opinions, Laws, and the Constitution


Everything we do require some interpretation. It might be the interpretation of the rules of a business or the instructions in an auto r...

Everything we do require some interpretation. It might be the interpretation of the rules of a business or the instructions in an auto repair manual. Seldom are rules and instructions so clear they require no interpretation. That is probably never the case. So who gets to make these interpretations? Everyone does. And what is an interpretation, it is an opinion.

When a new law is agreed on, and before it is even put into place, the interpretation begins. The crafters of the law and those who voted for it can have wildly different views on what the law means and on why they voted for it. Next the governing administration and the departments entrusted to implement the law will have their interpretation at to what the law means and what regulations are necessary to put the law into effect. Next the social workers, police officers, and other officials who actually have to carry out the law create their interpretation as to what they are supposed to do. Everyone gets into the act of interpreting the law.

Law is much about interpretation, opinions, and personal beliefs about what is right and wrong. Those beliefs help determine what laws are created, and how the law is actually implemented. Some interpretations, opinions, and personal beliefs carry more weight than others. Written verbiage of a law written by those who created the law is more important than what a legislator says on the news. The opinion of the President and the officials creating the regulations to make the law work is more important than the opinions of the rest of us. And the opinion of the members on the Supreme Court matter most of all.

Much has been written about how laws and the Constitutions should be interpreted by the courts. Two often cited ideas about this are that the Constitution should be interpreted based on the intent of those who wrote it, the Founding Fathers. A second idea is that interpretation should be based on the changing norms of society. Both ideas require interpretations and opinions. The first requires the interpretation of the opinions of men who lived two hundred years ago. The second requires the interpretation of the changing beliefs of the members of a society. Both types of interpretations will be the opinions of the judges on the court.

Any judgment made by a judge is fundamentally just their opinion regardless of the guides they use to make that judgment.

But it should be an informed and learned opinion, and the justification of their opinion should be put into writing so that we can judge the judge. Did they abide by the standards and rules created to guide them in making their interpretation or did they use their judicial powers to bend their ruling to fit their own personal wishes?

Judgments, and the written justification of them, should be held to certain standards. There should be criteria for making a judicial judgment, and there are. But even these are open to interpretation and opinion. Even the criteria used for making interpretations are open to interpretation. There’s no end to it.

So what good is it all? Obviously, not all opinions are equal. Some show greater insight and wisdom than others. Some are better reasoned than others. And some are more honest than others. And some actually work, while others do not work.

If you are reading an auto manual, trying to get your car to run, if you interpret the manual wrong, your car will not work. The same goes for laws, at least to some extent. If the laws are wrong, if they are made wrong or ill conceived, or if they are judged wrong by the court, our society will not work. The difference is that it can take minutes to know if your car works, but years to know how our society will be affected by a judicial opinion.

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Consider This:

Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a "necessary evil", it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil. -Sydney J. Harris, journalist (1917-1986)



The Evolving Monkey : Interpretation, Opinions, Laws, and the Constitution
Interpretation, Opinions, Laws, and the Constitution
The Evolving Monkey
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