Intentionalism in constitutional opinions

John B. Gates, Glenn A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This study examines the extent and ways in which two ideologically disparate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court rely upon the intent of the framers of the Constitution in their opinions on constitutional questions. A content analysis of the complete opinions written by Justices Brennan and Rehnquist over a ten-year period reveals that not only do they not differ in their relative use of intentionalism but they also very rarely use original intent as the controlling argument in their opinions. We examine as well the justices' historiography. Finally, a systematic examination of all opinions shows that the two justices consistently use intentionalism in support of quite different ideological outcomes. We discuss the quantitative and interpretive findings in light of debates over constitutional interpretation and explanations of judicial decision making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-261
Number of pages17
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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