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Passage Set #2 on 8-86

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This is a question about the comparative reading passage concerning interpretation of the constitution as a strict literalism or a living document. I thought I understood it really well but then got question 5 and 6 wrong. Why is 5 E and not B? I thought Passage B would say that strict constitutions don't ALWAYS believe it should be interpreted literally because of line 45-50. Also why is 6 A? To be, passage B was much less partisan and negative than passage A. If someone could please help me that would be greatly appreciated :)
Jonathan Evans
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Hi, SBlum,

Good questions! As on many comparative reading passages, one key skill is to evaluate and identify the shared topic of both passages and then to describe the extent to which they overlap or differ from each other, in tone, scope, or viewpoints. For these two passages, you appear to have a reasonably good grasp of the subject matter, but let's drill down on the main points of each:

  1. Subject of this passage is debate over proper approach to jurisprudence; 1st ¶ gives background; 2nd ¶ is a description of the "constructivist" approach; 3rd ¶ is a description of the "interpretivist" approach; ll 31-36 suggest that the author is generally more inclined towards the "interpretivist" approach.
  2. Subject of this passage is debate over proper approach to jurisprudence; 1st ¶ gives background; 2nd ¶ argues in favor of "constructivist" approach; 3rd ¶ argues against "interpretivist"/"activist" approach; author clearly favors constructivist approach, considers interpretivists activist judges in a pejorative sense.

Let's consider both your questions. For question 5, answer choice (B), in ll 46-52, the author of Passage B clearly indicates that constructivist judges need not interpret the constitution literally ("no one would argue..."); instead constructivists focus on intent. Thus, while there is some evidence the author of Passage A would agree with this statement (l 17), the evidence in Passage B points in the other direction.

For answer choice (E), note ll 55 and 61 in which "activist judges" make decisions "under the guise of interpretation" and characterize "such moves as interpretation." This evidence suggests that such "activist judges" do not consider themselves activist judges. In Passage A, ll 29-20 give direct evidence that these judges consider themselves "interpreters, not activists." Therefore there is direct evidence to support answer choice (E).

For question 6, asked about how the tone of Passage A differs from that of Passage B, note in our description above that while the author of Passage A shows an implicit preference for interpretive philosophy, her preferences are not as overtly articulated as the preferences of the author of Passage B. Insofar as Passage B is more polemical in its approach, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that B is more "partisan." Therefore, we have sufficient evidence to support answer choice (A).

One challenge of comp-reading is the extent to which such passages do not forgive lack of clarity about the main points of both passages and the relationships between the themes of these passages. It is prudent to make sure that you have adequate understanding of the main points of these passages.

Please follow up with further questions. I hope this helps!
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I'm struggling with #2 on this passage, and I'm wondering if you might be able to help guide my thinking.

So, the passage discusses constitutional interpretation. Author of Passage A clearly feels that the Constitution needs to be adapted in order to apply to the ever-changing nation. Passage B is clearly more aligned with the strict constructionist view, claiming that judicial activists (who according to Passage A consider themselves to be "interpreters") step into the domain of the legislature and ultimately undermine the rule of law & democratic process.

Now, # 2 is asking me to identify a point of disagreement between the two authors. I easily eliminated A, because that's just not what they were concerned with. I eliminated B easily as well, because this seems to be more a point of agreement. Again, C didn't really seem to be a point of disagreement at all...I think both would acknowledge this, but Passage B didn't even really discuss the concept of a "living document." So now I'm between D and E. I know that Author B agrees with answer choice D, because he clearly states that the judicial activists "whittle away at the democratic process" (lines 72-73). And I know the Author of passage A disagrees with answer choice E...he believes the Constitution IS subject to interpretation...because he discusses how judges regard themselves as "interpreters" and adapt the document to an ever-changing nation.

So, I know from looking at the answer key that D is the correct answer. And this looks like a correct answer to me...but I'm having trouble eliminating E. Isn't the author of Passage B arguing against this loose application of the Constitution? So wouldn't the author of Passage B say that the Constitution is not subject to interpretation, thereby in agreement? This would legitimize E as an answer choice. Furthermore, I couldn't point to a line where answer choice D is explicitly refuted by Author A. I feel that I know he disagrees...but did I ever have any solid proof that he gave an opinion on the judicial activists' impact on the democratic process?

After much staring at both answer choices, I began to consider that perhaps I read E incorrectly. Perhaps E is not speaking to its subjectivity in the manner that I was in "right or wrong" practices. Maybe it means literally, the Constitution is not subject to interpretation, which would mean that no one interprets the Constitution at any point in time, and so neither author would agree with this statement. I don't know if that's hardcore reaching!

Thanks in advance.
Adam Tyson
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Given all that's happening in the news this week, what a timely passage to be discussing!

I think your latter analysis of the meaning of answer E is the correct one, rachelhannah. Both authors would disagree, because both author think the Constitution is subject to interpretation. Evidence for this in passage B can be find in the first paragraph, where the author tells us not that the Constitution should not be interpreted, but that "there is seldom consensus with respect to its proper interpretation" (emphasis added). He then says in the second paragraph that "every effort should be made, within reason, to construe the document's meaning in accordance with its framers' original intent" (emphasis added again). This means that the author is concerned with HOW the Constitution is interpreted, but recognizes that it must in fact BE interpreted in order to be applied to the modern world.

Keep up the good work!
Adam M. Tyson
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