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Interpreting Ambiguous Language in the Constitution


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  • Interpreting Ambiguous Language in the Constitution

    Interpreting Ambiguous Language in the Constitution

    It has been said that the meaning of the Constitution is clear and obvious. However, this appears not to be the case.

    Presented below is an argument between Patrick Henry and James Madison and John Marshall, during the Virginia Ratifying Convention, over the meaning of the word "controversies" in the provision Of the United States Constitution that grants the Federal courts jurisdiction over controversies between a state and citizens of another state.

    Madison and Marshall interpret the word “controversies” to include only those disputes where a State is the plaintiff, whereas Henry interprets the word to mean controversies where a state is either a plaintiff or a defendant.

    Who was correctly interpreting the Constitution, James Madison and John Marshall or Patrick Henry?

    The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal
    Constitution [Elliot's Debates, Volume 3]

    Friday, June 20, 1788.

    [The 1st and 2d sections of the 3d article still under consideration.]

    Mr. MADISON.

    Its jurisdiction in controversies between a state and citizens of another state is much objected to, and perhaps without reason. It is not in the power of individuals to call any state into court. The only operation it can have, is that, if a state should wish to bring a suit against a citizen, it must be brought before the federal court. This will give satisfaction to individuals, as it will prevent citizens, on whom a state may have a claim, being dissatisfied with the state courts. It is a case which cannot often happen, and if it should be found improper, it will be altered. But it may be attended with good effects. This may be illustrated by other cases. It is provided, that citizens of different states may be carried to the federal courts.

    Mr. HENRY.

    As to controversies between a state and the citizens of another state, his construction of it is to me perfectly incomprehensible. He says it will seldom happen that a state has such demands on individuals. There is nothing to warrant such an assertion. But he says that the state may be plaintiff only. If gentlemen pervert the most clear expressions, and the usual meaning of the language of the people, there is an end of all argument. What says the paper? That it shall have cognizance of controversies between a state and citizens of another state, without discriminating between plaintiff and defendant. What says the honorable gentleman? The contrary--that the state can only be plaintiff. When the state is debtor, there is no reciprocity. It seems to me that gentlemen may put what construction they please on it. What! is justice to be done to one party, and not to the other? If gentlemen take this liberty now, what will they not do when our rights and liberties are in their power? He said it was necessary to provide a tribunal when the case happened, though it would happen but seldom. The power is necessary, because New York could not, before the war, collect money from Connecticut! The state judiciaries are so degraded that they cannot be trusted. This is a dangerous power which is thus instituted. For what? For things which will seldom happen; and yet,: because there is a possibility that the strong, energetic government may want it, it shall be produced and thrown in the general scale of power. I confess I think it dangerous. Is it not the first time, among civilized mankind, that there was a tribunal to try disputes between the aggregate society


    With respect to disputes between a state and the citizens of another state, its jurisdiction has been decried with unusual vehemence. I hope that no gentleman will think that a state will be called at the bar of the federal court. Is there no such case at present? Are there not many cases in which;the legislature of Virginia is a party, and yet the state is not sued? It is not rational to suppose that the sovereign power Should be dragged before a court. The intent is, to enable states to recover claims of individuals residing in other states. I contend this construction is warranted by the words. But, say they, there will be partiality in it if a state cannot be defendant--if an individual cannot proceed to obtain judgment against a state, though he may be sued by a state. It is necessary to be so, and cannot be avoided. I see a difficulty in making a state defendant, which does not prevent its being plaintiff. If this be only what cannot be avoided, why object to the system on that account? If an individual has a just claim against any particular state, is it to be presumed that, on application to its legislature, he will not obtain satisfaction? But how could a state recover any claim from a citizen of another state, without the establishment of these tribunals?

  • #2
    We have been through this before, Flash.
    Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein


    • #3
      He doesn't understand, DAL. He will continue to randomly show up and post this crap...... and, inevitably, someone will fall into the trap and get into a deep but meaningless debate. He's a troll and as long as people keep responding to his actual topics, he'll stick around.

      Try taking part in other topics besides those of your own, Fred..... or leave.


      • #4
        Not today Fred, I have a headache.


        • #5
          Fred, really, there must be a web/chat thread where your views are in the majority, and taken seriously.....now go to www.i'mafreakin'headcase.com and leave us alone.
          Last edited by Kieth M.; 08-19-2008, 11:23 AM.
          "You're never fully dressed without a smile."

          Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

          Three things I know for sure: (1) No bad deed goes unrewarded, (2) No good deed goes unpunished, and (3) It is entirely possible to push the most devoted, loyal and caring person beyond the point where they no longer give a 5h!t.


          • #6
            I wonder how much he'd like to come onto one of my conservative chat sites and be skool'd


            • #7
              Originally posted by Taylor13 View Post
              I wonder how much he'd like to come onto one of my conservative chat sites and be skool'd
              I would love to go there.


              • #8
                Originally posted by FredFlash View Post
                I would love to go there.
                Since the site is a republic, I've got to let them all have a say in if you can come to the site, if they vote yes then I'll PM you the link.


                • #9
                  PM'd to you, our hardcore conservatives love fresh meat.


                  • #10
                    Patrick Henry was right. For example, if some other state refuses to honor my DL, I have the right to sue that state in Federal Court, and so does my state on my behalf. There's no ambiguity in the word controversies. The problem is in the misinterpretation of the word "between" to exclude bidirectionality. Madison thought giving the individual the power to sue a state was an affront to states. He was disregarding the right of the people to petition the government for redress of grievances.


                    • #11
                      I just skip your threads because its a waste of my life.

                      But this time I didn't, just so I could tell you this.
                      "Friendly Fire, isn't"


                      • #12
                        The fundamental principle of construction adopted in D. C. v. Heller was cherry picked by the five activists from United States v. Sprague, 282 U. S. 716, 731 (1931).
                        In interpreting this text, we are guided by the principle that “[t]he Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning.” United States v. Sprague, 282 U. S. 716, 731 (1931)

                        --D. C. v. Heller

                        Since the five activists believe that it is the controlling authority on the principles of Constitutional interpretation, let's take a closer look at the case of UNITED STATES V. SPRAGUE. Here's the paragraph from U. S. v. Sprague opinion from which the activists claim to have obtained the principle.
                        The Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary, as distinguished from technical, meaning; where the intention is clear, there is no room for construction and no excuse for interpolation or addition. Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 1 Wheat. 30; Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1; Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419; Craig v. Missouri, 4 Pet. 410; Tennessee v. Whitworth, 117 U. S. 13; Lake County v. Rollins, 130 U. S. 662; Hodges v. United States, 203 U. S. 1; Edwards v. Cuba R. Co., 268 U. S. 628; The Pocket Veto Case, 279 U. S. 655; Story on the Constitution (5th ed.) § 451; Cooley's Constitutional Limitations (2d ed.) pp. 61, 70.

                        The Sprague Court was apparently articulating a rule of interpretation it derived from eight previous Supreme Court opinions, a section from Joseph Story's Commentaries and two page from Thomas Cooley's Constitutional Limitations. None of the sources citied in Sprague actually contain a sentence which reads, "The Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary, as distinguished from technical, meaning; where the intention is clear, there is no room for construction and no excuse for interpolation or addition."

                        The rule espoused in Sprague doesn't exclude the application of other rules when the meaning of a word, term, phrase, clause or other element of language is still dubious after applying the meanings that are normally and ordinarily given to the words. This is just common sense, because many words have more that one normal and ordinary meaning. The word "right", for instance, is commonly used to signify over more than a half dozen intellectual ideas.

                        The five activists, judging from their snub of the second element of the principle advocated by the Sprague Court, seem to hold the view that words which have more than one meaning don't need further interpretation, which is of course, absurd. The activists, unless they are as dumb as rocks, know that the Second Amendment contains words that are going to still be dubious after applying the normal and ordinary meanings. For example, the normal and ordinary meaning of the word "people" is "persons collectively or in general." Applying that meaning to the word "people" makes the Second Amendment mean "the right of persons collectively or in general to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed", which just don't sound right.

                        The activists don't want to be bound by any objective rules or principles when they ascertain the meaning of dubious words in the Second Amendment. They want to be able to give free rein to their personal views and put meanings on the words that will produce the outcome their little activist hearts desire.


                        • #13
                          You're hijacking your own thread. Your post #12 here has nothing to do with individuals being allowed to sue states in federal court. Go resurrect one of the other threads instead of pretending you wanted to discuss something different.


                          • #14
                            Justice William Johnson Believed the Rules of Construction
                            Applied to the U. S. Constitution
                            But it is contended that the second section of the third article contains no express cession of jurisdiction; that it only vests a power in Congress to assume jurisdiction to the extent therein expressed. And under this head arose the discussion on the construction proper to be given to that article. On this part of the case, I shall not pause long. The rules of construction, where the nature of the instrument is ascertained, are familiar to every one.

                            --Supreme Court Justice William Johnston in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 14 U.S. 1 Wheat. 304 304 (1816)


                            • #15
                              Reiterating the complaint about your hijacking your own thread. Go back to one of your other threads and answer the points raised by others in them instead of carping about rules of construction again in this one. You still haven't even said whether you think individuals should be allowed to sue foreign states in federal court.


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