A constitutionalist is often known by other names such as a constitutional conservative or a strict constructionalist. While the latter term typically refers to judges and justices, it is also used to describe any person that believes in a strict reading of the US Constitution. This person typically favors limited government, as prescribed by the Constitution, and one that is small not only in size but also in scope and in power.
There are different principles espoused by various constitutionalist organizations as well as individuals. Two of the main schools of thought are those of the textualist and originalist. While the two share some beliefs, their view of how the Constitution should be interpreted differs to some degree. No one who would use this term for himself believes in judicial activism, for example, even it would benefit his or her cause.
It has long been held that the Constitution, as well as laws and other legally binding documents, should be interpreted by the definitions of the terms used at the time they are written. The constitutionalist embraces this principle, which is found in both textualism and originalism.
Texualists believe in as literal an interpretation as possible, although it is not always feasible to construe each precept in a completely literal manner. To do so would allow no limits against such things as “arms,” which are protected by the Second Amendment. This would then allow the average citizen to legally own and use nearly any weapon known to man, including weapons of mass destruction.
Many people believe that there should be some reasonable limits even on rights that are deemed inalienable. The right itself, the right to defend oneself, is what is inalienable. Many people don’t accept it to mean that the methods used should have no limits, however. The same can be said of free speech and other rights, although some who hold strictly to this philosophy disagree.
Originalists also hold that textualism is important, although they place more reliance on the framers’ original intent, which is said to be more important than the precise words used. This intent is often learned by reading the Constitution along with other writings by the framers at the time. The Federalist Papers are but one of the favored sources of the originalist. To avoid extrapolations often based in semantics, as has been the case too often where judicial activists are able to provide their own interpretations, originalism demands that the Constitution be interpreted according to what the Founders sought.