What Is the Difference Between Strict Construction and Loose Construction in Interpretation of a Constitution?

A strict constructionist attempts to interpret the law based on the words of the law itself, while a loose constructionist applies a more liberal reading to the text. The debate between strict and loose construction of the United States Constitution has been a feature of the republic’s history since the very beginning.

For example, in the early years of the United States, Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, wanted to charter an official national bank as a way to stabilize the new country’s finances. Opponents to this plan, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, argued that the text of the Constitution does not explicitly give the national government the power to charter banks. Therefore, he argued, chartering such a bank would be unconstitutional, because according to the plain text of the document, all powers not explicitly given to the national government were retained by the states. Hamilton and his allies, however, countered that the Constitution has explicit as well as implied powers, and that the latter are sometimes necessary to carry out the former. Though the implied powers are not spelled out in the law, they are understood to exist. His arguments won the day, but the dispute over implied versus express powers continued through debates over slavery, segregation, labor law, health care reform and many of the other major political issues in U.S. history.