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Opening Arguments

The real world

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is one of the court's "living document" adherents rather than one of the originalist members. In his new book "Making Democracy Work," he calls it "pragmatism."

They constitute a set of pragmatic approaches to interpreting the law. They provide a general perspective of how a pragmatically oriented judge might go about deciding the kinds of cases that make up the work of the Supreme Court. I do not argue that judges should decide all legal cases pragmatically. But I also suggest that by understanding that its actions have real- world consequences and taking those consequences into account, the Court can help make the law work more effectively. It can thereby better achieve the Constitution's basic objective of creating a workable democratic government. In this way the Court can help maintain the public's confidence in the legitimacy of its interpretive role.

I want my legislators to be pragmatic in the sense that they consider the real-world consequences of their acttions. But I like my law and constitutional interpretations in stark black-and-white, right-and-wrong terms. We need to know clearly and precisely what we can and cannot do on a day-to-day basis.


Lewis Allen
Tue, 09/14/2010 - 7:54pm

I don't think there can be any such thing as 'law and constitutional interpretations in stark black and white terms'. Too much changes, due to technological advancements, and other factors. If it were that simple, why the need for judges and courts at all?

William Larsen
Tue, 09/14/2010 - 9:52pm

I am of the belief that the Constitution means the same thing as it did in 1787 when it was first put fourth. Word may change, perceptions may change, technology may change, but the constitution does not. However, there is a mechanism built into the constitution by which change is to be made. It is not through the Judicial Branch, but the legislative branch and voted by 2/3 of the states in the course of ten years.

If the Constitution needs to be changed, then an amendment needs to be brought up for a vote to make the change.

Andrew J.
Wed, 09/15/2010 - 9:18am

Way too slow and cumbersome to be changing the Constitution by amendment every time changes, technological or otherwise, comes up requiring that document to be in synch with the 21st century.