Does the Constitution Prescribe Rules for its Own Interpretation?

59 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2008

Date Written: November, 14 2008


It is frequently assumed that the Constitution specifies no rules governing how it is to be interpreted or applied. But is this really so? This article argues that this commonly held assumption is seriously mistaken. A careful reading of the Constitution's text shows that the Constitution itself prescribes an interpretive methodology of original public meaning textualism. The Constitution sets forth these general interpretive instructions in Article VI, in language confirmed by the Enacting Clause (Preamble), the "Establishment Clause" (of Article VII), by the structure and logic of Article V, and by the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In addition, the Constitution contains a number of specific, "retail" interpretive instructions, including the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Amendments.

Keywords: Constitution, constitutional law, constitutional interpretation, originalism, textualism

Suggested Citation

Paulsen, Michael Stokes, Does the Constitution Prescribe Rules for its Own Interpretation? (November, 14 2008). Northwestern University Law Review, 2009, U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-36, Available at SSRN:

Michael Stokes Paulsen (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4831 (Phone)

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