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Tipsheet

Lack of Deep Thinking = Belief in the Living Constitution?

Guest post from Ilya Shapiro

In a twist on the “lack of deep thinking” idea, part of what might be going in Sotomayor’s head—why she keeps answering questions about judicial philosophy with reference to precedent rather than constitutional first principles is because she’s not an originalist.  How can we hope for her to tell us her understanding of the meaning of the constitutional text, after all, if that text’s meaning changes with the times?

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For example, Stuart Smalley Al Franken asked Sotomayor point blank, “do you believe the right to privacy includes the right to have an abortion?”  The nominee began her response with: “The Court has said….”  That is, it is not the Constitution—whatever your view of it may be, whether you think it contains a right to abortion or not—that is the supreme law of the land, but what nine black-robed philosopher-kings say.  Of course, if your (non-)theory of constitutional interpretation is to keep “improving” the document—and to keep one step ahead of public opinion, so judges can effect social “progress”—then it’s irrelevant what the Constitution said before the Supreme Court put its gloss on it. 

And if you subscribe to this “living Constitution” or “active liberty” theory, then naturally the life experiences of a “wise Latina,” along with lessons from foreign and international law—which, Sotomayor said as recently as her April speech to ACLU, get a judge’s “creative juices flowing”—are all valid parts of your jurisprudential toolkit.

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Ilya Shapiro is Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and Editor-in-Chief, Cato Supreme Court Review

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