Saturday, April 9, 2016

How to interpret the Constitution


“x xx.

It seems from the foregoing that the main problem We are confronted with in this appeal, hinges around the necessity of a proper and adequate interpretation of sections 1 and 5 of Article XIII of the Constitution. Let Us then be guided by the principles of statutory construction laid down by the authorities on the matter:

The most important single factor in determining the intention of the people from whom the constitution emanated is the language in which it is expressed. The words employed are to be taken in their natural sense, except that legal or technical terms are to be given their technical meaning. The imperfections of language as a vehicle for conveying meanings result in ambiguities that must be resolved by result to extraneous aids for discovering the intent of the framers. Among the more important of these are a consideration of the history of the times when the provision was adopted and of the purposes aimed at in its adoption. The debates of constitutional convention, contemporaneous construction, and practical construction by the legislative and executive departments, especially if long continued, may be resorted to resolve, but not to create, ambiguities. . . . Consideration of the consequences flowing from alternative constructions of doubtful provisions constitutes an important interpretative device. . . . The purposes of many of the broadly phrased constitutional limitations were the promotion of policies that do not lend themselves to definite and specific formulation. The courts have had to define those policies and have often drawn on natural law and natural rights theories in doing so. The interpretation of constitutions tends to respond to changing conceptions of political and social values. The extent to which these extraneous aids affect the judicial construction of constitutions cannot be formulated in precise rules, but their influence cannot be ignored in describing the essentials of the process (Rottschaeffer on Constitutional Law, 1939 ed., p. 18-19).

There are times that when even the literal expression of legislation may be inconsistent with the general objectives of policy behind it, and on the basis of equity or spirit of the statute the courts rationalize a restricted meaning of the latter. A restricted interpretation is usually applied where the effect of literal interpretation will make for injustice and absurdity or, in the words of one court, the language must be so unreasonable 'as to shock general common sense'. (Vol. 3, Sutherland on Statutory Construction, 3rd ed., 150.).

A constitution is not intended to be a limitation on the development of a country nor an obstruction to its progress and foreign relations (Moscow Fire Ins. Co. of Moscow, Russia vs. Bank of New York and Trust Co., 294 N. Y. S.648; 56 N.E. 2d. 745, 293 N.Y. 749).

Although the meaning or principles of a constitution remain fixed and unchanged from the time of its adoption, a constitution must be construed as if intended to stand for a great length of time, and it is progressive and not static. Accordingly, it should not receive too narrow or literal an interpretation but rather the meaning given it should be applied in such manner as to meet new or changed conditions as they arise (U.S. vs. Lassic, 313 U.S. 299, 85 L. Ed., 1368).

Effect should be given to the purpose indicated by a fair interpretation of the language used and that construction which effectuates, rather than that which destroys a plain intent or purpose of a constitutional provision, is not only favored but will be adopted (State ex rel. Randolph Country vs. Walden, 206 S.W. 2d 979).

It is quite generally held that in arriving at the intent and purpose the construction should be broad or liberal or equitable, as the better method of ascertaining that intent, rather than technical (Great Southern Life Ins. Co. vs. City of Austin, 243 S.W. 778).

X x x.”