Ambiguous Constitutional Language & Judicial Philosophy

Ambiguous Constitutional Language

The First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments imply the right to privacy through the freedom of religion and the protections against mandatory housing of soldiers, unlawful searches and seizures, and self-incrimination. However, nowhere in the Constitution does the word “privacy” exist. Since the language of the Constitution related to the privacy rights and other rights—such as the right to bear arms—often is ambiguous, it leads to one of the most fundamental tenets of democracy: discourse. This ambiguity leaves room for interpretation and according to some legal scholars gives way to the belief that the Constitution is a living document that reshapes itself to suit the changing times. While Supreme Court Justices have the power to decipher and give meaning to the ambiguous language, the implications on policy can be both positive and negative.

To prepare for this Discussion:


  • Review the article “Disentangling the Fourth Amendment and the Self-Incrimination Clause.” Consider how the courts’ interpretation of the ambiguous overlapping of the Fourth Amendment and the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment influences policymaking.
  • Review the U.S. Supreme Court Cases District of Columbia v. Heller and Grutter v. Bollinger in the LexisNexis Academic database. Consider the impact of the Court’s constitutional interpretation in these cases.
  • Reflect on the strengths and limitations of the Supreme Court making policy by interpreting ambiguous constitutional language.


With these thoughts in mind:

Post by Day 3 at least two strengths and two limitations related to the Supreme Court making policy by interpreting ambiguous constitutional language. Be specific and justify your response.

Be sure to support your postings and responses with specific references to the Learning Resources.
Judicial Philosophy and Establishment of Rights

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson defined inalienable rights as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Although this statement is very vague and unclear as to what liberty and the pursuit of happiness entail, it provides rights to all citizens of the United States. Ambiguous language is used throughout the Constitution, which makes its interpretation a daunting task for Supreme Court Justices ruling on controversial cases.

There are two schools of thought for interpreting the U.S. Constitution: Originalism and Living Document Philosophy. Justice Antonin Scalia favors Originalism, which means the Constitution’s interpretation should pertain to the original intent of the document. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg favors Living Document Philosophy, which leaves the interpretation up to the changing moral, political, and cultural climate of the times.

Out of respect for the legacy of the founding fathers and the central identity of U.S. democracy, the Constitution will never undergo revision, but rather, can be amended. Originalists do not want an amendment to detract from the genuine Constitutional document. Conversely, Living Document Philosophy sees amendments as the Constitution’s intended legacy.

To prepare for this Discussion:

  • Review the U.S. Supreme Court cases Atkins v. Virginia and Grutter v. Bollinger in the LexisNexis Academic database. Think about the majority and dissenting opinions in each of these cases. Reflect on whether the justices used Originalism or Living Document philosophical interpretations to make their decisions.
  • Consider the strengths and limitations of Originalism and Living Document Philosophy as they relate to law and public policy.
  • Select one of the court cases in this week’s Learning Resources.
  • Reflect on the Court’s final decision and how the justices interpreted the Constitution, resulting in the establishment of a “right.”


With these thoughts in mind:

Post by Day 4 an explanation of which judicial philosophy for constitutional interpretation (Originalism or Living Document) you believe would best benefit law and public policy. Then describe a “right” which the Supreme Court established by interpreting the Constitution. Explain the constitutional interpretation that led to the establishment of this right.

Note: Put the judicial philosophy you selected in the first line of you post. You will be asked to respond to a colleague who selected a judicial philosophy that you did not.

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