A Comprehensive Analysis of the Changing Ideological Frameworks Guiding Interpretations of the First, Second and Fourth Amendments, 1776-2017
Historically, Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution of the United States have been significantly important, impacting the lives of every American. This honors thesis seeks to understand the ways in which the Constitution has been interpreted through the lens of political ideology. Using constitutional theory, I explain how the political ideologies of classical liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, and progressive liberalism have played a role in the interpretations of the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments. I also examine how these ideological interpretations have changed from 1776 to 2017, dividing the history of the United States into four eras: the Founding Era, the Civil War Era, the New Deal Era, and the Modern Era. First, the First Amendment's clauses on religion are examined, where I focus on the separation between church and state as well as the concepts of "establishment" and "free exercise." The First Amendment transitions from classically liberal, to conservative, to progressively liberal and classically liberal, to progressively liberal and libertarian. Next, we look at the Second Amendment's notions of a "militia" and the "right to keep and bear arms." The Second Amendment's interpretations begin classically liberal, then change to classically liberal and progressively liberal, to progressively liberal, to conservative. Finally, the analysis on the Fourth Amendment's "unreasonable searches and seizures" as well as "warrants" lends evidence to ideological interpretations. The Fourth Amendment, like the other two, starts classically liberal for two eras, then becomes libertarian, and finally ends libertarian and conservative. The implications of each of these conclusions are then discussed, with emphasis on public opinion in society during the era in question, the ways in which the ideologies in each era seem to build upon one another, the ideologies of the justices who wrote the opinions, and the ideology of the court.