Ambiguous Constitutional Language; Judicial Philosophy and Establishment of Rights

Posted: October 17th, 2013

Ambiguous Constitutional Language; Judicial Philosophy and Establishment of Rights





Ambiguous Constitutional Language; Judicial Philosophy and Establishment of Rights

Ambiguous Constitutional Language

The framers wrote the constitution using general principles instead of details, and this has contributed to its ambiguity. The ambiguity of the constitution has had significant impact on policy. Judges act at their discretion when interpreting the constitution. This has meant that the interpretation has changed over the years, depending on the judges who are interpreting the constitution while making the ruling. Terms such as cruel and unusual punishment have changed over the years, as people have redefined their understanding of the terms. Other ambiguous terms in the constitution include due process of the law, freedom of speech, and unreasonable search and seizure. Although there have only been seventeen amendments to the constitution since its development, the ambiguity of the constitution has led to changes in the constitution. The different interpretations of the constitution have responded to the changing nature of the society.

The fourth amendment states:

“The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (Maclin, 2012).

The amendment is ambiguous because it is not clear what probable cause means. The courts have had to interpret the fourth amendment when referring to electronic technology. The amendment does not in any way mention computers or computer related technologies, since they were not present at the time. The constitution does not mention anything concerning violation of people’s security in light of the terrorist threat, which has led the government to establish counter terrorism measures that may seem to violate the fourth amendment. The courts have had to interpret the constitution to reflect the changing society. Ambiguity in the fourth amendment has led to changes in the behavior and rules of the police force. Since they are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the people maintain law and order, the police officers are often caught at crossroads when investigating some incidents and crimes. The officers decrease their level of search intensity when faced with a highly ambiguous situation (Etarno, 2003).

The fifth amendment of the constitution states in part:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime… nor shall any person be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…without due process of the law” (Maclin, 2012).

This amendment prevents a person from, voluntarily or involuntarily, implicating himself in a crime. The clause has a due process clause, which ensures that the government respects the rights of the citizens, including the protection of a person’s property. The fourth and fifth amendments are reflections of each other, in that the purposes of unreasonable search and seizures in the fourth amendment are made with the intention of forcing someone to self-incriminate himself. In Boyd v. United States, the judge noted, “compelling the owner of goods that are subject of a forfeiture proceeding to produce his own private books and papers is compelling him to be a witness against himself” (Maclin, 2012, no pg).


Judicial Philosophy and Establishment of Rights

Despite dealing with many cases involving the fourth amendment over the years, the Supreme Court has been unable to come up with specific rules that will ensure there is consistency in its application. The Supreme Court judges are well versed with the law, and they have examined many varied court cases that require the interpretation of the constitution. However, they have not been able to identify the underlying principles of the fourth amendment. A limitation of the ruling by the Supreme Court may be biased towards personal values or political opinions. When dealing with an ambiguous situation, the judges are supposed to acknowledge this limitation in their ruling. The court should choose the alternative that is most likely to benefit the party that is less likely to obtain a constitutional amendment to correct the interpretation of the court, despite the judges’ feelings and beliefs concerning the case (Baker, 2009)

When interpreting the case District of Colombia v. Heller, the majority justices ruled that the judges should interpret the constitution based on its original intended meaning, thus avoiding any complexities and changes that may have happened since the constitution was adopted. The principles and the application by the judges do not recognize the changes that have occurred in the country and the complex nature of the law since that time. When making the ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger the judges failed in interpreting the constitution. Part of the requirements of the fourteenth amendment, is that states should not deny citizens their privileges, take away a person’s life or property, or withdraw his or her liberty. Moreover, every person has the right of being protected. The law ensures that the states shall not discriminate any citizen through its laws. The government is to observe equal protection of all its citizens. In its ruling, the court generally acknowledged that it was okay to discriminate on racial grounds. It applied double principles because it would not have made the same judgment if the plaintiff were a student from a minority race. In making the decision, the court demonstrated its limitation when interpreting the constitution.

The Supreme Court is qualified to make policies based on its interpretation of the constitution. The court understands the importance of upholding and maintaining the law. Its insistence of making its rulings based on the requirements and guidelines of the constitution means that it recognizes the constitution as a way of protecting the people and ensuring that they have their rights. By so doing, the Supreme Court ensures that it applies the same laws to everybody irrespective of the person’s status or position.



Baker, A. L. (2009). Constitutional ambiguities and originalism: Lessons from the spending power. Northwestern University Law Review, 103 (2), 495-549

Eterno, J. (2003). Policing within the law: A case study of the New York City police department. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO

Leef, C. G. (2003). Does Higher Education Benefit from Racial Preference in Admissions? Retrieved from

Maclin, T. (2012). The Supreme Court and the fourth amendment’s exclusionary rule. Oxford University Press

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