Methods of Judicial Interpretation
Different methods lead to different outcomes
I. Literalism: literal text of the Constitution
II. Original Intent: historical basis; intent/motives of framers
- What is the law supposed to mean? Purpose of Law?
- What the framers intended the Constitution to mean.
- To deviate from intent is to change the nature of the Constitution.
- Law doesn't change according to interpretations of judges.
- Starting point when faced with unanticipated circumstances: Derive principles and apply to circumstances.
- Lack of complete record: No transcript of Convention debate
- Whose intention to follow? Whom do we mean by framers?
- Demands that judge know something that is in some sense unknowable: How do you truly know true intent?
III. Doctrinal Approach: follow precedent
principle of Stare de cisis: "Let the decision stand"
- New cases should be decided the same way as old cases.
- Follow precedents if similar facts in previous cases.
- Makes laws stable and predictable so people know what to expect because judges follow previous decisions.
- Adopt principle and apply to cases with similar circumstances: Attempts internal consistency by judges in decisions.
- Consistency and continuity in law.
- Size & diversity of cases/rulings: Always find precedent for either side.
- Most common approach, but it's used by judges in both majority and minority opinions.
- Difference between
ratio decindi: underlying principle/rule of decision
obiter dictum: excess language; legal reasoning to support decision
Which is which?
- Justices can alway decide facts of case are different from precedent: No guidelines for following precedent.
IV. Competing Interests (Prudential): balance one interest against another
V. Structuralism: larger relationships within the Constitution, not specific provisions
- More abstract approach means less accurate.
- More chances of multiple interpretations.
Return to Media Law Home Page