Rationality and textualism

In conversation with mathematicians regarding the interpretation of constitutional law, I have noticed that many seem to be in favor of a “living Constitution” whose meaning may be interpreted while also taking into account the spirit of the times. (A perfectly valid survey sample, I’m aware.) I find that a mathematician would support this concept to be entirely strange.

For a mathematical metaphor, take, say, the definition of continuity of a function. If we are having trouble defining a functional from the space of continuous functions to the real numbers, we wouldn’t argue about the definition of continuity to say, for example, that it actually means left-continuity, and therefore our incorrectly-defined functional is valid; if we’re looking for a functional whose domain is the space of continuous functions, we haven’t accomplished our goal. This doesn’t mean, however, that we haven’t found a perfectly good functional from the space of left-continuous functions to the real numbers. There is no mathematician who could argue either one of these points and be correct.

Why, then, would an individual so clearly committed to deductive reasoning and rational thought give himself over to questioning the semantic conclusion of law? Law is created to apply a set of rules to a set of circumstances so large as to hardly be conceivable. In writing law, we impose ourselves as generators of axioms of a specific mathematical theory by which our behavior must conform to avoid being incorrect by definition. If we agree on the rules of our language’s grammar, then any self-consistent body of law is clear regarding its definitions, referents, and applications. There can be no rational debate regarding the correctness of the theory as long as it is internally consistent, while debate certainly can exist regarding the utility of the theory, whether in application or in existence.

In a legal dispute, a party can attempt to differentially portray the facts of either the disputed situation or the law. Yet the law as above defined admits no differential portrayal, and no arbiter of disputing parties should consider the second option. To be entirely banal: the second amendment to the Constitution, for example, is clear in its reading via the fourteenth amendment that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” by either the federal or state government. Likewise, the fourteenth amendment is not up for discussion when it states that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” which, grammatically, is a fairly easy statement to analyze—all state and federal laws apply equally to all people. Legitimate arguments could be made regarding the necessity of the second and fourteenth amendments, but not regarding their interpretation.

Written on August 5, 2016