Understanding the original purpose and context is essential in interpreting the Constitution of the United States, says the Seventy General Authority Emeritus.


Former lawyer and general authority emeritus Seventy Tad R. Callister expressed the dangers of American judges replacing constitutionally enshrined values ​​and powers with their own moral values ​​or current societal norms.

The BYU-Hawaii Prelaw Society hosted Callister for a forum titled “How to Interpret the Constitution: The Living Document Method or Originalism” on November 17.

The living document method

The “Living Document” or “Living Constitution” theory, Callister said, is less a method of interpretation than a disguise to legislate on its moral values.

Callister accompanied his slide forum with quotes from founding fathers of the United States, judges, and legal experts. A quote Callister shared, by Justice Antonin Scalia, a now deceased United States Supreme Court justice, explained the consequences of interpreting the constitution under the living document theory:

“This is of course the very attraction of non-originalism for judges: once they are freed from original meaning, they are also freed from any other guiding principle. Nothing limits their action, except perhaps their estimate of the degree of forensic social engineering that society will tolerate.

Callister cited the reflections of academics and judges who have expressed concern over the 2015 US supreme ruling requiring that “all states grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.”

He did not express his opinion on whether or not he believed the ruling was morally correct or not, but said he did not agree with the logic and argument that the decision had been made.

Callister quoted Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts as saying, “That same-sex marriage is a good idea shouldn’t be of concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have the power to say what the law is and not what it should be.

“The people who ratified the Constitution have authorized the courts to exercise ‘neither force nor will’ but simply judgment. The majority’s decision is an act of will, not a legal judgment … ”

Advocacy for originality and the search for truth

Callister argued for originality and implored listeners to go back to the original documents and texts to understand what the Founding Fathers meant and believed rather than relying on third-party sources for what to think.

To express this point, he told the story of a young member of his family who approached him saying that Columbus was an evil man who was promoting sexual slavery.

Callister said he looked at the document the young boy had read and noticed that the article left out two critical sentences. He said he asked the boy if he had read the sentences before and after the one quoted, and the boy said no; it was not included in the article.

He then said that he told the young boy that if he looked at the original text, he would see that the context shows that Columbus was exposing those involved in sexual slavery, but because the line of the article was taken out of its context, it seemed that Columbus’ sentiment was the opposite of what he originally meant.

With this example, Callister emphasized the importance of understanding the original purpose and the intended rights and powers granted to the judicial branch of government by the Constitution.

Thomas Nebeker, a senior from Porterville, Calif., Specializing in political science, said: “This forum has really put into perspective how I could better defend the truth.

“The cool thing about studying originality is that you have to look into the past to find the context. Context and sourcing is how we find the truth, and the call to action was that we must seek and seek the truth.

For Nebeker, the forum was a push to motivate him and “I hope … my peers” to “do great things and achieve a lot of things if we are willing to put in the time to find the truth,” he said. he declares.

Get involved: Pre-legal society

The BYUH Prelaw Society page states that it “welcomes students of all majors who are interested in finding out whether a future in the legal field will allow for the highest expression of their intellect and interests after graduation.”

“… Our student organization is dedicated to bringing students together in a spirit of camaraderie to explore the legal landscape, embark on the path of legal education and take up leadership positions. ”

Events hosted by the Prelaw Society include lectures, networking, Law School Entrance Test (LSAT) preparation, workshops and more. This semester, for one of the events, the Prelaw Society hosted BYU Dean of Admissions Tony Grover at J. Reuben Clark Law School in Provo, who led a mock law class and conducted interviews with BYUH students.

Certificate of Legal Studies

BYUH offers a 15-credit Legal Studies Certificate that includes courses covering legal research and drafting, international law, and business law and ethics, among others. According to a BYUH University Relations article by Kristie Lam, “The certificate gives students an edge in graduate programs and in the workforce.”

Lam noted the experience of a student, Devyn Zebe Hartmann of Arizona, who interned with a senator in Washingto, DC. was the best preparation for my new job.

“… The ability to write effectively has turned out to be more important than I ever imagined, and I am very grateful for the training I received,” said Hartmann, legal studies graduate.

Free entry to Waikato Law

Jennifer Kajiyama Tinkham, an assistant assistant professor in the Faculty of Business and Government, explained that BYUH currently has an agreement with Waikato Law School in Hamilton, New Zealand. She said that students who graduate and complete a Legal Studies Certificate and wish to study Waikato Law are offered:

  • Free entry
  • No entry test
  • Possibility to practice anywhere in the Pacific (except French Polynesia and Tahiti)
  • 1 year of course credit
  • Competitive advantage for the stock market
  • University research opportunities

For more perspectives and information on constitutional interpretative theory, see the link below: https://dlj.law.duke.edu/2017/06/living-constitutional-theory/

Join the Prelaw Society Facebook page to learn more and to attend events in the future: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BYUHPrelawSociety/?fref=nf

For the full BYUH University News article on Legal Studies Certificate, click here:



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