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Constitutional FAQ Answer #93

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Q93. "How is the Constitution a living document?"

A. The Constitution has been termed a "Living Document," but whether you think it is, or rather should be, depends on your interpretation of the Constitution itself. Through out time, the Constitution has been interpreted by many people; Presidents, Congress people, Judges, Justices, and plain folk like me. The fact that we are able to do this at all is where the phrase comes from.

Some believe that the Constitution is a whole document in and of itself, and that any further interpretation of its text is not only unnecessary but undesirable. However, my feeling is that the bulk of the people in the United States take a view that allows the Constitution to be interpreted to at least some extent. In interpreting the Constitution, it is said to grow, expand, adapt. In this way, it is like a living thing. It is able to take the external surroundings and change to suit them. These changes are most visible in the decisions of the Supreme Court.

For example, at one point, the Court ruled that separate institutions for black and white citizens were perfectly legal and constitutional, as long as the institutions were equal in power and efficacy — the "separate but equal" doctrine. In this century, the Supreme Court turned this doctrine on its ear by declaring that separate cannot mean equal, and segregation was unconstitutional.

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