For example, prior to the Civil War, there were a significant number of members of the judiciary who were in favor of slavery and limiting the rights of African Americans. Therefore, when challenges to slavery would land in their courts, they would consistently rule in favor of pro-slavery beliefs. If we jump ahead to the 1970’s, the judiciary became very liberal in its composition. As such, many decisions that were sympathetic to liberal views became common. In time, the nation would shift to the right and many liberal judges would be replaced by conservative judges.
As such, many of the decisions made by these judges would reflect a more conservative interpretation of the constitution. For example, the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision occurred during a period of cultural upheaval in the nation where feminism had become a significant movement. Such a decision would not have been possible twenty years earlier and, arguably such a decision may not have been possible twenty years after. This can be evidenced in the recent decisions to ban partial birth abortion and the presence of far more traditionally conservative judges on the Supreme Court.
To a great degree, contextual interpretations based upon the “context” of the law in relation to the environment it exists in and structural interpretations of the law that determine judicial interpretation based on beliefs of separation of powers (see the previously mentioned Line Item Veto as an example of this) also play significant roles. Again, this all reverts back to the fact that the constitution was not designed as a means of provided a centralized government authority and different judges of different belief Interpretations of the Constitution Page 4
systems can shape interpretation in a very flexible manner. Of course, this leads to the criticism as to whether or not there are any standards to judicial interpretation. Standards, quite honestly, is not a term that is written in stone either because regardless of what decision a judge may arrive at will please some people while simultaneously aggravating others. Such is the nature of the political climate and political sociology of the United States. Ultimately, judicial interpretation is shaped by the people who comprise the population.
That is, the population selects politicians who then appoint judges. Since people select politicians based on their own particular individual political beliefs, they expect the public officials to support judges who share in those same political beliefs. Since there is great political diversity among the population, different trends at different times have led to different ideologies gaining strongholds in the judiciary area. Therefore, it is safe to say that the ultimate authority that shapes the judicial interpretations of the constitution is the people themselves.
This brings about the important question: is popular opinion the proper means in which to shape judicial interpretations of the constitution a good thing? To answer such a question depends upon an individual’s personal political belief as to whether or not political influence on judiciary interpretation is acceptable. Considering the diversity of the population, it would be safe to assume there would be much diversity in terms of those who will find such actions acceptable or unacceptable. In a way, judicial interpretation is neither good nor bad, it simply exists and is part of the unique framework of the American government system.