The Constitution of the United States remains a unique anomaly in the world of political and legal documents. The reason for this is that the constitution is hardly an organic entity. In other words, the constitution is a document that is essentially written in stone – its words are clear and are not changes. For example, the Bill of Rights has been left completely untouched since it was first written in the 18th century. What is unique about this document is the fact that while the words have never changed, society has changed greatly over the last three centuries.
As such, many legal and political issues have arisen that could never have been conceived of during the days the Founding Fathers and the Framers devised the constitution. As such, there has been the need for judicial review of legislation in order to determine the constitutionality of various laws. At times, these laws have been upheld while at other times, these laws have been deemed unconstitutional and eliminated. Consider the example of the Line Item Veto: the ability of the president to be able to strike certain parts of a bill as opposed to being required to veto all the legislation.
Former President Bill Clinton signed the Line Item Veto into law, yet the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional because it provided the office of the president with far more power than the office was legally allowed to maintain. What is interesting to note here is that a completely different Supreme Court in a different era may have APPROVED of the Line Item Veto. The reason for this is that Interpretations of the Constitution while the words of the constitution may be set in stone, the judicial interpretations of the constitution may vary.
The constitution was written in very general terms because it was not the intention of the Founding Fathers to create a rigid, centralized authority. In fact, the purpose of the constitution was to provide the exact opposite: a system of government that supported freedom and civil liberties. As such, there was great flexibility provided to judges to determine was is or is not constitutional about certain laws.
This, of course, brings about the question what is it that determines how judges arrive at their interpretations of the law? Since judges are, of course, human beings, they will have their own opinions, ideologies and beliefs on the law. Some judges may be very conservative and literal in their interpretation of the constitution while others judges may be more open in their interpretations to the point where judges are activists in their particular interpretations.
Judges, like all individuals, are products of their own beliefs. Many times, these beliefs are shaped by the environment in which the judges shaped their ideology. Often, cultural upheavals can often play a great part in the shaping of the constitution’s interpretation by the judiciary. That is to say, as the political climate of the nation changes to reflect the values of the individuals within the nation, those judges who are occupying the judge’s chair will make interpretations based upon said upheaval and climate.