Inevitable Interpretation


To interpret, or not to interpret; that seems to be the essential question within the American legal system. Over the last few weeks, we have discussed and analyzed the distinct and opposing viewpoints of constitutional understanding.  The powerful ideas of Antonin Scalia were examined. Scalia’s resilient devotion to the text (and only the text) is outlined in his book, A Matter of Interpretation.  To counter Scalia’s justification of textaulism, an in-depth exploration of William Brennan’s desire to interpret was necessary. Brennan’s belief in a “living constitution” is explicitly expressed throughout his published literature, and a true passion for his purpose is evident.

I will now begin by admitting that for the majority of my politically-coherent existence, I have considered myself a fairly strong conservative. For an individual who tends to follow conservative values, it would seem as though Scalia’s commitment to the traditional words of the constitution would take precedence over the option to interpret. This notion remained true for a short while, until I was presented with a situation that truly transformed my opinion.

For close to four months, I have been interning at law firm. The firm represents the defense-side of immigration cases. In the short time that I have been working in the legal field, I have found great enjoyment in linking real legal matters to the topics that we discuss in class. As previously stated, one particular instance altered my entire view on the interpretation of the law. It began when my boss asked me to do some research on religious blasphemy in Pakistan for a client who was pleading political asylum. (If you aren’t aware of the term, it can be defined as “the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee.”) I was unusually intrigued by the idea of asylum, and proceeded to do some additional research on the statute. It was at this point that I discovered how incredibly broad the guidelines were for an asylum plead were, and how an interpretation by a judge was nearly inevitable. In order to be eligible for asylum, the immigrant must be considered a legal “refugee;” here’s where it gets interesting:

The INA defines refugee as:

“Any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Did you catch it? In order to become a refugee, the respondent must display a “well-founded fear of persecution.” How can we possibly follow only the text of the law when subjective words such as “fear” are being used?  Is your idea of fear exactly the same as my idea of fear? Or more importantly, does the refugee’s understanding of fear match perfectly to the judges’? It is the broadness of language that has generated my belief in a necessary interpretation of both the constitution and the law. Though each and every one of us has the freedom to read the constitution as we wish, I find it exceptionally difficult to argue the true and “intended” meaning of a broad and unspecified topic. 

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