Professors Daryl Fair and Kevin Michels got into the spirit of Constitution Day last Thursday, holding a forum entitled “Two Views on Constitutional Interpretation.” Fair, professor of political science, argued that the text of the Constitution makes it fairly easy for judges to interpret. Michels, professor of business, argued that the Constitution cannot be the answer to every problem in courts today.
“There are two views here. They are profoundly different, but they are both held in good faith,” Michels said.
Fair said that textualism — the words — should be the first thing considered when interpreting the Constitution. The text could afford some answers to questions the Supreme Court faces today.
“Nevertheless, some constitutional provisions are broad, general, subjective, and difficult to interpret within the four corners of the Constitution,” according to Fair’s Microsoft PowerPoint slide.
Michels said simply reading the text of the Constitution is not enough to derive answers for today’s problems. He disagreed with Fair’s idea that reading the text is enough to understand and apply it today. Originalism, or trying to understand what the framers of the Constitution meant, is the second step, Fair said.
“Many people would argue it’s the only other place you would look besides the text,” Fair said.
Michels argued that finding the intent of all 39 framers of the Constitution would be impossible, as they all had their own opinions and could not possibly have foreshadowed future events.
“What they agreed on, in large part, was a debate,” Michels said. “The miracle was that they forged a convention to agree.”
Times have changed since the Constitution was crafted and thinking has changed.
“We can’t freeze-frame the world as it was when the Constitution was drafted,” Michels said.
According to him, the best way to interpret the Constitution today is to use modern understanding of terms and look to moral reasoning and the deepest understanding of society and politics.