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Much of the controversy surrounding constitutional interpretation concerns two issues. The first is a version of a conundrum that has perplexed lawyers for millennia: should the interpretation of a law he governed mainly by its 'letter', or by its 'spirit'? The second issue is the extent to which the meaning of a constitution can, and should, be determined by the original intentions, purposes, or understandings of its founders. This issue pits so-called 'nonoriginalists' against 'originalists'. This book explores the constitutions of six countries - Australia, Canada, Germany, India, South Africa, and the United States - and how they have been interpreted by their highest courts. It examines whether the courts' interpretive practices have changed over time, the apparent reasons for any changes, and whether the courts apply the same interpretive principles to different areas of constitutional law, such as federalism, separation of powers, and individual rights. The book then reflects on the institutional, political, social, and cultural contexts that might help to explain differences between the practices of these courts.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInterpreting Constitutions: A Comparative Study
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
ISBN (Electronic)9780191706707
ISBN (Print)9780199226474
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Constitutional interpretation
  • Constitutions
  • Courts
  • Federalism
  • Germany
  • India
  • South Africa
  • United States

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