Monday, July 25, 2005

The Translation Theory of Constitutional Interpretation

Lawrence Lessig describes (in 103 pages) a theory for interpreting the Constitution: Fidelity In Translation (PDF). I've just read the first few pages, but it is an interesting idea.

Lessig points out that we have changed the way we read the Constitution. Yet he also points out that sometimes following an underlying principle means doing things differently:
For we all know that sometimes fidelity to an original meaning requires doing something different, and that, in those cases, doing the same thing done before would be to change the meaning of what was done before. Take a simple example to make the point: If a diplomat is ordered to “be polite” while in Iraq (where belching after eating signals approval) and belches loudly at the end of her meal, it would not be fidelity to her order to belch loudly at the end of her next meal with the British Monarch, even though (in an importantly impolite sense) she would have done the same thing as before. Change here—bowing rather than belching—is fidelity. We all know that this diplomat must do something different in Britain if she is to do the same thing as in Iraq. She must change her act to remain faithful to the original command—not to change her act would be to manifest infidelity.
I look forward to reading the whole thing.