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Scalia's Poker: Puzzles and Mysteries in Constitutional Interpretation

Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2007

25 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2007 Last revised: 10 Feb 2009

Timothy P. P. O'Neill

John Marshall Law School


This paper applies the recently-developed political science dichotomy of puzzles and mysteries to constitutional law. A puzzle can be definitively answered by gathering information about events that have already occurred. It is transmitter-dependent, since its solution depends on what information is received.

A mystery, on the other hand, cannot be answered with certainty even in principle. The solution may depend on events which have not yet occurred. It is receiver-dependent, since its solution will depend on the skill of the person evaluating the information received.

In law, the meaning of a constitutional provision such as the Due Process Clause may be viewed as either a puzzle or a mystery. Moreover, justices such as Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer may be said to view all constitutional interpretation as either a puzzle or a mystery, respectively.

The paper contends that, in terms of Isaiah Berlin's famous characterization, puzzle justices may exhibit hedgehog-like behavior, while mystery justices may be more fox-like. The paper concludes by examining what the impact of this may be on relations within a collegial court.

Keywords: puzzle, mystery, constitutional law, scalia, breyer, isaiah berlin, tetlock, supreme court, fox, hedgehog, popper, wittgenstein, due process clause, active liberty

Suggested Citation

O'Neill, Timothy P. mname, Scalia's Poker: Puzzles and Mysteries in Constitutional Interpretation. Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2007. Available at SSRN:

Timothy P. O'Neill (Contact Author)

John Marshall Law School ( email )

315 South Plymouth Court
Chicago, IL 60604
United States

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