Pepperdine Law Review
Pepp. L. Rev.
This article considers the way in which judges play a significant role in developing the meaning of a constitution through the exercise of interpretive choices that have the effect of “informally amending” the text. We demonstrate this by examining four written federal democratic constitutions: those of the United States, the first written federal democratic constitution; India, the federal constitution of the largest democracy on earth; and the constitutions of Canada and Australia, both federal and democratic, but emerging from the English unwritten tradition. We divide our consideration of these constitutions into two ideal types, identified by Bruce Ackerman: the “revolutionary” constitutions of the United States and India, and the “adaptive establishmentarian” constitutions of Canada and Australia. In this way, we show that judicial informal amendment changes constitutional meaning in both revolutionary and adaptive settings. We conclude that whatever the origins of a federal democratic constitution, be it revolutionary or adaptive establishmentarian, and whatever the background of the judges and the text with which they work, in the absence of formal amendment, judges use an image of the constitution to give and to change the meaning of a written text over time. This allows a constitution to adapt to changing social, economic, and political conditions where formal amendment, for whatever reason, proves difficult. But, in some cases, it might also leave a federal democracy with a constitution which the Framers did not intend. Whatever the outcome, though, the judges play a central role in the evolution of constitutional meaning over time, for good or for ill.