Legal Interpretation and a Constitutional Case: Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell

The approaches of Hughes and Sutherland are but two extremes in constitutional interpretation. Though only two results were possible in the case – either the Act was constitutional or it was not – there are more than two methods by which an interpreter could reach those results. This Note explores possible ways of deciding Blaisdell, using the case as a vehicle for delimiting the boundaries of a positive constitutional command. As a sort of empirical investigation of legal philosophy, the Note examines how various interpretive theories affect an interpreter’s approach to the case, and the results these theories might mandate. The Note’s thesis is that Blaisdell was wrongly decided under any theory of interpretation.

After summarizing the Hughes and Sutherland opinions in Part I, the Note proceeds in Part II to discuss the application of three interpretive methods to Blaisdell: textualism, originalism, and contextualism. Part II concludes that all three methods mandate striking down the Minnesota law. Part III examines two schools of legal philosophy – positivism and natural law – to see how the case would be resolved under their respective conceptions of law. This Part questions whether either legal theory can justify the Court’s result. Finally, Part IV uses legal realism to account for the Blaisdell decision. This Part argues that though realism accurately describes the Blaisdell decision, the theory normatively justifies the Court’s opinion only if one agrees that the interpreter should be wholly unconstrained by positive law. Thus, the Note concludes that Blaisdell is an example of cases in which a court, striving to reach a desired result, ignored the law.