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Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
3 Points

Is it time for Congress to clearly define how the Constitution should be interpreted and applied?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/26/2015 Category: Politics
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 678 times Debate No: 76975
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
Votes (1)




It seems that a lot of constitutional issues arise due to the fact that the document does not have a clause outlining how it should be interpreted and applied. Maybe something like this would help: "In all matters of interpretation and application of the Constitution, clear preference must be given to the original intent. When this intent can not be determined, the error must be on the side of individual liberty."

As the Constitution was written by Congress, any clarification mechanism must come from them. Do you agree it is time to do this?


Thank you for this debate, I am looking forward to it.

As for the topic "Is it time for Congress to clearly define how the Constitution should be interpreted and applied?", in which I represent the Con side and thus am against the above seen statement.

As for definitions, I would like to define that we are talking about USA constitution here, as well as the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the US.

Opening Statement:

As for the topic "Is it time for Congress to clearly define how the Constitution should be interpreted and applied?" my definite answer has to be no. While this suggestion may be great for layman in the legal field, it is a nightmare for legal experts. New amendments, or in fact all laws may be written in terms hard to understand but are quite clear. If now a body, especially congress, as they propose new amendments, define the law as to fixed terms, there could be a great issue as with the power they possess.

I would like to quote James Wilson, one of the founding fathers, appointed Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court by George Washington and 'founder' of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia.
He stated that "Influenced by these admonitory truths, I hesitate, at present, to give a definition of law.". In his inaugural Law Lectures, he indeed placed a lot of emphasis on the issue that Law should not be defined to fixed terms.

Also we have to see the danger in Congress, that if they would 'define' amendments not proposed by them, after all, the current Congress is the 114th US Congress, and set them to fixed terms. This would mean that congress could define amendments to 'their' liking, whether or not this was intended interpretation or not.

Lets make an example. The 2nd amendment is quite controversial, yet very clear in interpretation. Also the founding fathers had a good reason for this, and no, it was not hunting, recreation or personal self defence, it was that citizens were protected from governmental powers in case government was tyrannical, after all the US war of independence was all about liberty and freedom. Lets assume congress would define/interpret the 2nd amendment and how it is applied to their liking and thus would disarm citizens. This would mean that congress altered the amendment, the definition as well as possibly the terms for their benefit, as the 2nd amendment is literally for citizens as a protection against government and as such against congress. This seems not just.

Furthermore, there already are definitions of the constitution as in precedents by the legal system.

Lets make another example. The 19th amendment. The 19th amendment is the amendment that defines that you cannot be denied your right to vote based on gender. This effectively overruled the case of Minor v. Happersett in which supreme court ruled that a previous amendment for voting, the 14th amendment does not allow women to vote.
Indeed, the 14th amendment does not allow women to vote, as it may be an amendment based on liberty and protection against government, but has a section in which 'Males 21 years of age' are mentioned as voters and as such does not include females.

As you can see, the constitution is interpreted as in precedents, however note, that these precedents are not legally binding.

It seems like you are not very versed in the topic, as you refer to the constitution as 'the document'. The constitution is not just 'a document', it has been amendment 27 times. Also, Individual Liberty shall not be impeded by not knowing the original intend. Do you know what you just said? If the original intent is not known, people like you and me are at fault for this. What nonsense.

Furthermore it seems like you do not know what the constitution is, it is written very clear. And it is not hard to interpret or apply.

As I have stated above, the Constitution can be interpreted by precedents, but is also interpreted by the United States constitutional law, the body of law governing the interpretation and implementation of the constitution.


As we can see, the US constitution is, first of all, quite easy to interpret, second of all, interpreted by several methods and third of all, past time amendments should not be challenged as to interpretation by current Congress. The intention of the Constitution is quite clear and as such there is no need for congress to 'define', especially, as outlined in my arguments above, as law should not be defined as to clear terms, the constitution. Furthermore, as to the 'how' in the topic, this is well known and most certainly not an issue.

As already established, past amendments limit the power of congress and as such present congress should not have influence. However, new amendments, as old ones, are written in a style that they are not too hard to interpret, furthermore a interpretation and application mechanism as well as for clarification should not be implemented.

Laws are written to be clear and thus often cannot be 'clarified'. (and with that I mean the content and not language)

As to the topic "Is it time for Congress to clearly define how the Constitution should be interpreted and applied?", I am still of the opinion that this should not happen.

Kind Regards, I am looking forward to your arguments.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for taking the time to respond and take the con position with this debate.

Opening Statement:
As for any debate, you must first define your terms, as was done with the "con" preface to their position and support for that position. The exact term used was; "As for definitions, I would like to define that we are talking about USA constitution here, as well as the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the US." Defining the terms prior to engaging in a debate is critical to a logical conclusion to that argument. Debating the meaning of the US Constitution requires nothing less. However, this "defining of the terms" was not included in this founding document and thus has led to trouble and peril since our country's founding.

"If you wish to converse with me," said Voltaire, "define your terms." "How many a debate would have been deflated into a paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms! This is the alpha and omega of logic, the heart and soul of it, that every important term in serious discourse shall be subjected to the strictest scrutiny and definition. It is difficult, and ruthlessly tests the mind; but once done it is half of any task." Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (Chapter 2, Aristotle and Greek Science, Part 3, The Foundation of Logic).

This exactly supports my position, namely the need to "define the terms" of the US Constitution to clarify its application and interpretation.

In order to insure the proper interpretation and application of the US Constitution, Congress should submit for executive branch approval language to do just that, to supply the "alpha and the omega of logic" for this critical document.


Thanks for your reply

I will now go onto rebuttals, as well as some addition to my previous arguments.


As to my opening statement, it still seems to me as if Pro does not know what the constitution actually is, as evidently in the statement 'not included in this founding document'.
I have already stated that the Constitution has been amended 27 times, it is not the same that it was when it came into force in 1789, 226 years ago. The dictionary definition of 'constitution' is: "a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.". To say clearly, law. Now, the US constitution is 'supreme law', which means that it is the highest form of law in the US legal system.

The reason why I just stated this is because of Pros thesis about defined terms. Pro has the focus of this thesis on conversation seemingly, however, law is not conversation.

But as I have tried to establish, the constitution is not that hard to read. Here is the US constitution, for anyone who wants to read it. ( Lets make an example, lets just take the very first section.

"Section 1

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."

This seems very clear to me. Later on it is also defined what the senate and the house of representatives is, in fact most law explains itself and is explained within itself, as otherwise different people could have different interpretation, and most wording that is used is purposely used so it cannot be misinterpreted easily.

As for pros conclusion, the reason why I do not support the topic, is because this will give the congress power that they should not possess. I have no problem with them writing new amendments, as they can use whatever vocabulary they want to, but need to look out that whatever they state is actually linguistically what they want to say. However, if congress was allowed to define the constitution they could define it as whatever they wanted to, and as I have stated, congress is in its 114th session, and I am sure that some of the members have different ideas than the members of the first session 226 years prior. Congress should have the ability to amend previous parts of the constitution if needed, but they should not be able to define anything.

They also should most definitely not define interpretation, as defining interpretation means that it is defined. The main issue I have with this is that they could change the constitution by setting definitions that were not intended.
As an example, if the 1st session said that no cats are allowed and now someone defines cats as being dogs and as such no dogs are allowed, has this not changed the original intend dramatically? This is why I do not want terms defined, especially by people who did not formulate those terms. This is why congress has no business defining things. If they formulate something and define it within the same document, no problem, but to define it later, that just should not be, especially in law.

I will not even go into the 'application' part, as this is quite ridiculous. What the constitution does is quite clear and anyone who needs to have defined how to apply it should just keep out of legal matters and contact a professional.

Not just did Pro not provide any evidence as to their claims, especially things like ' trouble and peril since our country's founding', Pro did also not bring forward an argument that actually has any context to the topic, nor does Pro even seem to know what they are talking about. Also to note that Pro did not rebut any of my arguments nor seemed to have acknowledged anything I said in the previous round.
As such, I still stand by my view that Congress should not define how the Constitution should be interpreted (and applied).

Kind regards, I am looking forward to your argument.
Debate Round No. 2


Thank you for your rebuttal.

Actually, the use of intent of the Constitution in interpretation is already settled law via SCOTUS precedent. "The Constitution is a written instrument. As such, its meaning does not alter. That which it meant when it was adopted, it means now." South Carolina v. United States, 199 U.S. 437, 448 (1905). There are also numerous other mentions of this in legal rulings and texts:

- "Where the meaning of the constitution is clear and unambiguous, there can be no resort to construction to attribute to the founders a purpose of intent not manifest in its letter." Norris v. Baltimore, 172, Md. 667; 192 A 531.0.

- "The constitution is an instrument from the people and a construction thereof should effectuate their purpose from the words employed in the document; and the courts may not color it by the addition of words or the in-grafting of their views as to how it should be written." Ervin v. Collins, Fla. 85 S. 852; 59 ALR 706.

- "It is the peculiar value of a written constitution that it places in unchanging form limitations upon the legislation and thus gives a permanence and stability to popular government which otherwise would be lacking." Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412.

- "The primary principle; underlying an interpretation of constitutions is that the intent is the vital part and the essence of the law." Rasmussen v. Barker, 7 Wyo. 117; 50 p 819.

If we can understand the ability of Congress to change the Constitution only via the amendment process (including the potential use of Constitutional Conventions), the adherence to the original intent becomes a clear mechanism to avoid the approach of tyranny. If not, then we get into challenges such as; "it depends on what your definition of 'is' is".

The primary reason for my request for this Congressional interpretation and application language is to reiterate this critical element.


Kind regards for your reply.

I will now protract my rebuttals as well as making my final conclusion.

Final Rebuttals:

I will hereby assess Pros statements of the previous round and make additions as necessary, as to final arguments.

I would like to mention that Pro has still negated to provide any evidence as to any 'constitutional issues' as mentioned in round 1. This is an issue, as the whole debate was based on the idea of issues that arise because of no definition being present.
Thus Pro has not provided a reason as to why there is a need for definition.

Now to Pros arguments in Round 3 of this debate.

As to Pros quote "As such, its meaning does not alter. That which it meant when it was adopted, it means now.". This means that there is no need for definition, or does it not? If it was defined as something 226 years ago in the 'unamended' constitution, why would it have to be 'defined' now? This actually means that Pro has agreed with me that the constitution should not be defined, as it is already defined. Read the Constitution, it is all quite clear!

As for Pros next 3 quotes, these merely state that the intent and content of the constitution shall not be changed.

"The primary principle; underlying an interpretation of constitutions is that the intent is the vital part and the essence of the law."
This is indeed correct, however, the intend and application of the constitution is well known and understandable.

As for Pros last 'argument', as I have stated prior there is no evidence as to this occurring.

Furthermore, Law may be linked with philosophy, but it is important to understand that Law is not philosophy. Law is to be taken in a literal sense, we do not need to philosophize about every single word.

"the adherence to the original intent becomes a clear mechanism to avoid the approach of tyranny. If not, then we get into challenges such as; "it depends on what your definition of 'is' is"."
Indeed, that is what it is all about, liberty and freedom. However, law is not philosophy. Law is written literal. In fact, many of the founding fathers could be considered to be philosophers, but they seemingly did not have the issue that they had to 'define' everything to this sense. Because the common, literal meaning was used.

I will make an example as to why Pros assumption is ridicule. An average pre-schooler cannot read books like 'Harry Potter'. Does this mean that 'Harry Potter' books should be made into picture books so all pre-schoolers can read them? No, they should not.
The Constitution states: "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." Does this mean that people should philophosize about the meaning of the word 'Powers'? No it does not! Take the bland dictionary definition and not let congress define it.

There is no need for congress to define anything so I do not know why this is up for debate.. There is no 'critical element' in any of this.

Final Conclusion:

As for my final conclusion I would like to state that Pro did not actually use a single argument that was backed up by any sort of evidence, but simply put out the statement that 'issues' are present. I tried to find these 'issues' by conducting a Google search, but was not able to find any real 'issues'. I can understand that some layman may have issues with the wordings of law, but this does not mean that law needs to be 'defined' or rewritten.

As for my (Cons) case, I provided my thoughts as well as some evidence as to why there is no need for definition by congress, as well as Pro themselves providing that it is already defined as SCOTUS and as such meaning once again that there is no need for definition for congress to define anything.

One of my biggest issues is that the constitution is well established and well defined by itself, as well as being defined by SCOTUS, as I have already stated in Round 1 and that giving congress the power to define anything in the constitution now would give them power that they should not have. Pro however did not answer to this concern, just stated that it is not allowed according to law. This however does not mean that it would not happen. Thus my concern is adequate.

With this I would like to conclude that I am still standing with my original opinion, that congress should not define anything about the constitution. Pro has in my opinion failed to bring forward any actual arguments, while Con has negated the assumption, as well as provide proof to arguments. Pro has seemingly been stuck on the thought of definition but was not able to bring forward a proper argument. There was no actual reason brought forward for why congress should define anything while Con provided why congress should not define anything.

Kind Regards to Pro for this debate.

Debate Round No. 3
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by evanjfarrar 3 years ago
My point breakdown for this debate is as follows:

Agreed With Before: TIED
Agreed With After: CON
Conduct: TIED
Spelling/Grammar: TIED
More Convincing Arguments: CON
Reliable Sources: TIED


This debate was very entertaining, however, Con retained an edge over Pro for the entire debate. Pro presented his main argument, which appeared to be the issue of definition. However, Pro blatantly contradicted himself by presenting quotations which clearly presented the opposite to what he was trying to prove: that the Constitution is unclear enough that it required definition by Congress.

Con presented several key arguments on the offense, claiming that the Constitution did not need defining because of the irrationality of "defining law to fixed terms", the possible bias in defining amendments not originally passed by them, and the lack of need to interpret an ever-evolving document which is not very difficult to understand or apply.

Pro tried to respond to these arguments by claiming that definition was needed to ensure the clarity of interpretation, however, he never seemed to present any roots in logic, evidence or past cases to ensure that this argument was valid.

All other point categories are tied, since neither side seemed to fail to act appropriately or use proper grammar (other than a few scattered mistakes). Everything was fairly clear and articulated well. Each side did not present any facts which required citation, in my view, so the points awarded for reliable sources is inapplicable.

In my view, three points to Con, and zero to Pro.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by evanjfarrar 3 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
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Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: In comments.