Constitutional interpretation

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The provisions of national constitutions, like other laws, are often ambiguous, vague, contradictory, insufficiently explicit, or even silent as to constitutional disputes that judges must decide. In addition, they sometimes seem inadequate to deal appropriately with developments that threaten principles the constitution was intended to safeguard, developments that its founders either failed or were unable to anticipate. How judges resolve these problems through 'interpretation' is problematic and controversial, mainly because legitimate interpretation is difficult to distinguish from illegitimate change. This article discusses the interpretive methodologies of the courts of six federations that were the subject of a recent comparative study and then provides some explanations of the differences between them. These are Australia, Canada, Germany, India, South Africa, and the United States.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law
EditorsMichel Rosenfeld, Andras Sajo
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9780191751967
ISBN (Print)9780199578610
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2012


  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Constitution
  • Courts
  • Germany
  • India
  • Interpretation
  • Judges
  • South Africa
  • United States

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