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PHASES OF CONSTITUTIONAL INTERPRETATION

PHASES OF CONSTITUTIONAL INTERPRETATION

Textualist Approach:

In its early years, the Supreme Court adopted a textualist approach, focusing on the plain meaning of the words used in the Constitution

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üA.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950) – Court was called upon to interpret the fundamental rights under Part III.

üUnder it, Preventive detention was challenged as inconsistent with Articles 19 (the right to freedom), 21 (the right to life) and 22 (the protection against arbitrary arrest and detention). 

üThe Supreme Court decided that each of those articles covered entirely different subject matter, and were to be read as separate codes rather than being read together.

üIn its early years, the Court read the Constitution literally, concluding that there were no limitations on Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution.

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SECOND PHASE – THE STRUCTURE:

At this phase, the Court began exploring other methods of interpretation.

Appeals to the text of the Constitution were gradually overtaken by appeals to the Constitution’s overall structure and coherence.

  • In Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973), the Court concluded that Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution did not extend to altering its “basic structure” (an open-ended catalogue of features that lies within the exclusive control of the Court).
  • When Parliament attempted to overturn this decision the Court, relying on structuralist justifications, decisively rejected that attempt
  • The Court also categorically rejected the Gopalan approach in favour of a structuralist one in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978).
  • Through this decision, the Court conceived of the fundamental rights as a cohesive bill of rights rather than a miscellaneous grouping of constitutional guarantees.
  • The right to life was incrementally interpreted to include a wide range of rights such as clean air, speedy trial, and free legal aid