Strict Construction

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Strict Construction

A close or narrow reading and interpretation of a statute or written document.

Judges are often called upon to make a construction, or interpretation, of an unclear term in cases that involve a dispute over the term's legal significance. The common-law tradition has produced various precepts, maxims, and rules that guide judges in construing statutes or private written agreements such as contracts. Strict construction occurs when ambiguous language is given its exact and technical meaning, and no other equitable considerations or reasonable implications are made.

A judge may make a construction only if the language is ambiguous or unclear. If the language is plain and clear, a judge must apply the plain meaning of the language and cannot consider other evidence that would change the meaning. If, however, the judge finds that the words produce absurdity, Ambiguity, or a literalness never intended, the plain meaning does not apply and a construction may be made.

In Criminal Law, strict construction must be applied to criminal statutes. This means that a criminal statute may not be enlarged by implication or intent beyond the fair meaning of the language used or the meaning that is reasonably justified by its terms. Criminal statutes, therefore, will not be held to encompass offenses and individuals other than those clearly described and provided for in their language. The strict construction of criminal statutes complements the rule of lenity, which holds that ambiguity in a criminal statute should be resolved in favor of the defendant.

Strict construction is the opposite of liberal construction, which permits a term to be reasonably and fairly evaluated so as to implement the object and purpose of the document. An ongoing debate in U.S. law concerns how judges should interpret the law. Advocates of strict construction believe judges must exercise restraint by refusing to expand the law through implication. Critics of strict construction contend that this approach does not always produce a just or reasonable result.


Canons of Construction; Plain-Meaning Rule.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

strict construction (narrow construction)

n. interpreting the Constitution based on a literal and narrow definition of the language without reference to the differences in conditions when the Constitution was written and modern conditions, inventions, and societal changes. By contrast "broad construction" looks to what someone thinks was the "intent" of the framers' language and expands and interprets the language extensively to meet current standards of human conduct and complexity of society. (See: narrow construction, Constitution)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
This tension is visible in the anomalous relationship between Burke's political career and his career as a scholar, and in the susceptibility of the original American constitutional order, with all its wisdom and formal perfection, to subversion from within even in an era of ostensible "strict constructionism."
Inevitably, then, the South also changed its ideology as Southern leaders threw off the last vestiges of nationalism and engulfed themselves in the doctrine of states' rights and strict constructionism. Mason's first book does an excellent job of setting the stage for the disastrous decade of the 1850s, noting that the sectional schism began decades earlier, during the early Republic.
We have questions about strict constructionism and the role of the Supreme Court.
In the text, he comments on US constitutional law from the perspectives of economics and relatively strict constructionism. Over the course of the work's nine chapters he discusses the scope and limits of judicial review, the textual meaning and judicial misconstruction of the Commerce Clause, federalism and the stronger regulation of state transactions that would result from a reinterpretation of the Commerce Clause, the Commerce Clause and international commercial law, constitutional privileges and immunities as relevant to the antimonopoly tradition, procedural versus substantive due process, injunctions against labor unions, and rights of persons and firms under the Equal Protection Clause.
In 2004, his campaign website stated, "For almost a decade, Obama has been a leader in the Illinois legislature in the battle to protect a woman's right to choose." In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes, "I have to side with Justice [Stephen] Breyer's view of the Constitution--that it is not a static but rather a living document and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world." Obama eschews the strict constructionism of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, favoring an interpretation that takes into consideration "practical outcomes."
According to Dworkin, no judge can, or should, set aside such moralistic interpretation in favor of "strict constructionism."
To follow the action in Washington, you need to understand the two broad schools of thought on how to interpret the Constitution: originalism (sometimes called strict constructionism) and the "living Constitution" school.
This is an account of judicial power that runs against the grain of the dominant contemporary understanding of how courts ought to engage in constitutional adjudication, which I shall call "strict constructionism." According to strict constructionism, the very idea of result-oriented judicial decision making, even when consideration of the result and its consequences is only one factor among many in the analysis, introduces into the enterprise of state constitutional interpretation an element of instrumentalism that is simply inconsistent with the appropriate use of judicial authority.
The offensive rhetoric of the earlier era may have softened into code words like "Southern heritage," "fiscal conservatism" and "strict constructionism" (that last is for Chief Justice Rehnquist, who opposed Brown v.
Instead, he understood what it meant to be a judge and simply refused to embrace the myth of judicial "strict constructionism" to justify inaction in the face of real injustice.
Such scholars instead turn to a method of interpretation called originalism or strict constructionism. H.
Thus during the closing days of the presidential campaign, Vice President Gore allowed himself to suggest, before black audiences, that the Republican belief in "strict constructionism" was tantamount to advocating a return to the constitutional sanctioning of slavery and the counting of black slaves as three-fifths of a citizen.