Strict constructionism and the U.S. Constitution

Conservative Christians are all about strict constructionism. You know, when it comes to the Constitution, we have to look at the original intent of the framers. Yada yada. Some guys get really worked up over this. Justice Scalia does. Check out this 60 Minutes interview.

For some this is a text of doctrinal orthodoxy. After all, if a Christian believes in a “living, breathing” Constitution, he probably believes that the Scriptures are “living and breathing” and not in the sense the author of Hebrews thought they were. And then gosh knows what he believes is ok – homosexuality, bestiality. You get the picture.

The reality is, the only reason why we accept strict constructionism as an interpretive grid for the Constitution is because when applied, those judgments tend to rule in our favor (e.g. no Roe v. Wade).

But, this wasn’t always the case. Ironically, Democrats were strict constructionists back in the day and Republicans were the loosey-goosey liberals. Look at the Dred Scott case:

“Speaking for a majority of the justices, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that Scott was not entitled to sue, because, as a Negro, he was not a citizen of the United States. At the time the nation was created, Taney pronounced, blacks were considered ‘so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,’ and the Founding Fathers had not included them in either the Declaration of Independence of the Constitution.” David Donald, Lincoln, p. 199.

Out interpretive grid through which we view the Constitution has to be framed by the cardinal proclamation that Jesus is Lord. And when strict constructionism is in conflict with that proclamation, to hell with strict constructionism. We ought never to attach ourselves to a set of interpretive principles that might entail accepting rulings that contradict our most fundamental confession.

Anything else is idolatry.