The Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Interpretation – Article by Alexander Tsesis

From Volume 89, Number 3 (March 2016)
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This Article argues that the Reconstruction Amendments incorporated the human dignity values of the Declaration of Independence. The original Constitution contained clauses, which protected the institution of slavery, that were irreconcilable with the normative commitments the nation had undertaken at independence. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments set the country aright by formally incorporating the Declaration of Independence’s principles for representative governance into the Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence provides valuable insights into matters of human dignity, privacy, and self-government. Its statements about human rights, equality, and popular sovereignty establish a foundational rule of interpretation. While the Supreme Court has rarely parsed the significance of the Declaration of Independence, several judicial predicates exist to provide guidance to courts and scholars for developing constitutional doctrines arising from the founding values of independence. The principles espoused by the document should inform substantive constitutional interpretation in matters of pressing legal concern, such as voting and marriage equality.


 

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