Justice Brennan and Attorney General Meese’s views on judiciary
The exchange of views between Attorney General Edwin Meese and Supreme Court Justice William Brennan on the role of the judiciary to interpret the U.S. Constitution has become a partisan political debate since the issues that were raised are more concerned with politics than substance of the law. In fact, the argument of Attorney General Meese on the jurisprudence of original intention explained that the Supreme Court should be restored to its proper role in American government. Meese had pointed out that there is failure on the part of the present Supreme Court to provide proper respect to the written text of the Constitution and the true intention of its framers. In fact, the Supreme Court has endeavored to enter the realm of policy-making, which is a function that is traditionally lodged to the legislative and executive branches of the government.
The argument of Attorney Meese is more persuasive since he was able to raise good arguments. In fact, he stated that several of the opinions of Court represented more policy choices than the basic constitutional principles. He stressed that the Constitution should be interpreted based on the fundamental will of the people. The voice of the people is the fundamental law. The view of Meese is more convincing when he states that the Constitution articulate a specific principle such as the right to against unreasonable search or seizure, freedom of religion and the equal protection of the laws. The framers of the Constitution had verbalized these principles since they deemed that these rights are favorable to public interest. The meaning of the provisions can be found in the Constitution itself. It is these very principles which reflect the most profound purpose of the Constitution in order to establish a solid political system. The argument of Meese is more persuasive in the sense that the Americans can best govern themselves in order to achieve the objective of safeguarding the people’s liberty.
On the other hand, the judges base their decisions what they perceive as fair, equitable and decent under modern standards. There are instances when the judges leave the very essence of the constitution. The framers of the Constitution spent considerable amount of time to establish the provisions of the law of the land. They took extra precaution in choosing the appropriate words in creating the law and have spent long hours debating on every minute detail. Thus, the only responsibility of the court is to decipher the meaning of each provision of the law.
On the other hand, Justice Brennan argued that the role of the court is to interpret the ambiguities in the Constitution that represent the objective of social justice, brotherhood, and human dignity of the nation. It can be gleaned that the view of Justice Brennan that the framers themselves did not agree on the meaning of the constitutional provisions and how they should be applied since the provisions are too broad and general. He further contended that it is not the intention of the framers of the Constitution which should prevail, but rather the intention of people who ratify the provisions of the law. Justice Brennan further argued that what is material is to determine the meaning of the words in the present time. Brennan believed that time can bring changes to the terms of the Constitution on the basis of new conditions and purposes of the law. However, the view of Justice Brennan should bow down to the basic principles of the Constitution it cannot be given wider application since the framers of the Constitution had intended that the people should look into the deeper meaning of the law.
The argument of Meese is more persuasive in the sense that the text and structure of the Constitution has instructed the people regarding their rights. The Constitution does not have to necessarily provide political solutions. The Constitution has clearly expressed the best way to approach issues that involve the basic rights of the people. In fact, the first three articles of the Constitution had expressly stated the scope and limitation of powers of three distinct branches of the government. The argument of Justice Brennan that there is peculiarity in the constitution is misplaced. Brennan also mentioned that the Constitution consists of ephemeral enactments since the law itself is immortal since the framers of the constitution designed it to endure several occasions. Thus, it is to be understood that the framers of the Constitution had intended that human institutions can approach the law.
Meese is correct when he argued that Constitutional negotiation is not a mechanical process since there is a need to use reason and discretion. The text and intention of the Constitution should be recognized to comprise the account on which the constitutional interpretation must be derived. Therefore, it must be understood that the Constitution had been ratified by the people to be the guideline or map of their rights in expounding its principles. Hence, the provisions of the Constitution are consistent and stable to the basic needs of the people.
Van Patten, Jonathan K. “The Partisan Battle over the Constitution: Meese’s Jurisprudence of
Original Intention and Brennan’s Theory of Contemporary Ratification.” Marquette
Law Review 70.1 (1987): 389-422.