Principles of constitutional interpretation

Available in Russian

Price 100 Rub.

Author: Dmitry Shustrov

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2020-1-107-132

Keywords: constitution; Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation; construction; legal certainty; principles of interpretation; reasonableness


What are the criteria for correct interpretation in constitutional law? Are there any interpretative requirements that guide and limit the interpretative work of judges? What is the legitimacy of constitutional interpretation based on? These and a number of similar questions can be answered positively by pointing to the principles of constitutional interpretation. The author examines the essence, functions, features, classifications and content of principles of constitutional interpretation. Principles of constitutional interpretation are the basic requirements for determining the meaning of a constitutional text regarding the limits of interpretation, the order of interpretation, the choice of methods of interpretation and resolution of conflicts between the possible results of interpretation, verification of the results of interpretation. Principles of constitutional interpretation as secondary rules occupy a separate space in the system of constitutional interpretation, have an incontestable, categorical and supreme character, perform guiding, restrictive and legitimate functions. Principles must be distinguished from the methods, canons and rules of constitutional interpretation, for which the former are a kind of “secondary rules for the secondary rules”, which ensure their supremacy. There is no consensus in scholarly literature on the list and classification of principles of constitutional interpretation. However, it seems possible to divide them into four groups, depending on the stages of interpretation process, which cause the most controversy in terms of correctness from the public’s point of view: principles of the bounds of interpretation (principle of the language of the text; principle of the nature of judicial interpretation function), principles of the order of interpretation (principle of objectivity of interpretation; principle of the reasonableness of interpretation), principles which guide the choice of methods of interpretation and help to resolve conflicts between possible interpretation results (principle of equal importance and lack of hierarchy of methods of interpretation; principle of the systemic unity and integrity of the constitution and constitutional law; principle “in dubio pro libertate”; principle of integration), principles of verification of interpretation results (principle of legal certainty; principle of effectiveness; principle of constitutional conformity of interpretation). Most of these principles are used in judicial practice, which is a criterion for their validity. The abstract nature of principles of constitutional interpretation and the variety of practical situations in which they should be applied complicates their a priori understanding, which determines the definition of their content and application by courts in the process of resolving disputes.

About the author: Dmitry Shustrov – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Law, Associate Professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia

Citation: Shustrov D. (2020) Printsipy konstitutsionnogo tolkovaniya [Principles of constitutional interpretation]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.29, no.1, pp.107–132. (In Russian).


Aleinikoff T.A. (1987) Constitutional Law in the Age of Balancing. The Yale Law Journal, vol.96, no.5, pp.943–1005.

Aleksy R. (2010) Formula vesa [Weight Formula]. Rossiyskiy ezhegodnik teorii prava, no.3, pp.208–228. (In Russian).

Alexy R. (2010) A Theory of Constitutional Rights, New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Balkin J.M., Levinson S. (ed.) (2000) Legal Canons, New York; London: New York University Press.

Barak A. (1999) Sudeyskoe usmotrenie [Judicial discretion], Moscow: Norma. (In Russian).

Barak A. (2005) Purposive Interpretation in Law, Princeton, NJ: Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Barak A. (2012) Proportionality: Constitutional Rights and their Limitations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barber S.A., Fleming J.E. (2007) Constitutional Interpretation: The Basic Questions, New York: Oxford University Press.

Barnett V.M. (1940) Constitutional Interpretation and Judicial Self-Restraint. Michigan Law Review, vol.39, no.2, pp.213–237.

Bomhoff J. (2013) Balancing Constitutional Rights: The Origins and Meanings of Postwar Legal Discourse, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bongiovanni G., Sartor G., Valentini C. (eds.) (2009) Reasonableness and Law, London; New York; Dordrecht; Heidelberg: Springer.

Bydlinski F. (2006) Osnovnye polozheniya ucheniya o yuridicheskom metode [Basic provisions of the doctrine of the legal method]. Vestnik grazhdanskogo prava, vol.6, no.1, pp.190–241; no.2, pp.185–226. (In Russian).

Cameron A.M. (2009) Power without Law: The Supreme Court of Canada, the Marshall Decisions and the Failure of Judicial Activism, Montreal; Kingston; London; Ithaca, NY: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Dolzhikov A. (2016) Tolkovanie konstitutsionnykh prav [Interpretation of constitutional rights]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, no.4, pp.125–151. (In Russian).

Dworkin R. (2004) O pravakh vser'yoz [Taking Rights Seriously], Moscow: Rossiyskaya politicheskaya entsiklopediya (ROSSPEN). (In Russian).

Ehmke H., Jaenicke G., Leisner W., Schneider P. (ed.) (1963) Prinzipien der Verfassungsinterpretation. Gefährdungshaftung im öffentlichen Recht. Aussprache zu den Berichten in den Verhandlungen der Tagung der deutschen Staatsrechtslehrer zu Freiburg vom 4. bis 7. Oktober 1961, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co. (In German).

Frank J. (1949) Law and the Modern Mind, London: Stevens & Sons Limited.

Gadzhiev G. (2012) Printsip pravovoy opredelyonnosti i rol' sudov v ego obespechenii: Kachestvo zakonov s rossiyskoy tochki zreniya [The principle of legal certainty and the role of the courts in its support. The quality of laws from the Russian point of view]. Sravnitel'noe konstitu­tsionnoe obozrenie, vol.21, no.4, pp.16–28. (In Russian).

Grimm D. (2004) Judicial Activism. In: Badinter R., Breyer S. Judges in Contemporary Democracy: An International Conversation, New York; London: New York University Press, pp.17–66.

Grimm D. (2005) Integration by constitution. International Journal of Constitutional Law, vol.3, no.2–3, pp.193–208.

Ispolinov A. (2016) Sudebnyy aktivizm i sudebnoe normotvorchestvo Suda Evropeyskogo Soyuza [Judicial activism and judicial rulemaking of the Court of the European Union]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, no.1, pp.81–94. (In Russian).

Ivanov A.A. (2017) Sed'maya instantsiya? [Seventh instance?] Vestnik ekonomicheskogo pravosudiya Rossiyskoy Federatsii, no.4, pp.86–92. (In Russian).

fon Iyering R. (2006) Izbrannye trudy [Selected works], in 2 vols., Saint Petersburg: Yuridicheskiy tsentr Press. (In Russian).

Isensee J., Kirchhof P. (eds.) (1994) Gosudarstvennoe pravo Germanii: So­krashchyonnyy perevod s nemetskogo semitomnogo izdaniya. Moscow: Institut gosudarstva i prava RAN. (In Russian).

Kenenova I.P., Troitskaya A.A., Shustrov D.G. (2015) Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe pravo v doktrine i sudebnykh resheniyakh [Comparative constitutional law in doctrine and court decisions], Moscow: URSS, KRASAND. (In Russian).

Häberle P. (2003) Otkrytoe obshchestvo tolkovateley konstitutsii [Open Society of Interpreters of the Constitution]. Konstitutsionnoe pravo: vostochnoevropeyskoe obozrenie, vol.12, no.1, pp.21–28. (In Russian).

Harris D., O’Boyle M., Warbrick K. (ed.) (2016) Pravo Evropeyskoy Konventsii po pravam cheloveka [Law of the European Convention on Human Rights], Moscow: Razvitie pravovykh sistem. (In Russian).

Hart G.L.A. (2007) Ponyatie prava [The concept of law], Saint Petersburg: Izdatel'stvo Sankt-Peterburgskogo universiteta. (In Russian).

Hesse K. (1981) Osnovy konstitutsionnogo prava FRG [Fundamentals of constitutional law of Germany], 11th ed., Moscow: Yuridicheskaya literatura. (In Russian).

King J.A. (2008) Institutional Approaches to Judicial Restraint. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, vol.28, no.3, pp.409–441.

Kmiec K.D. (2004) The Origin and Current Meanings of Judicial Activism. California Law Review, vol.92, no.5, pp.1441–1478.

Krouford K. (ed.) (2018) Izbrannye resheniya Federal'nogo konstitutsionnogo suda Germanii, Moscow: Infotropik Media. (In Russian).

Llewellyn K.N. (1949–1950) Remarks on the Theory of Appellate Decision and the Rules or Canons about How Statutes Are to Be Construed. Vanderbilt Law Review, vol.3, no.3, pp.395–406.

Matis K. (2015) Konsekventsializm v prave [Consequentialism in Law]. Vestnik grazhdanskogo prava, vol.15, no.5, pp.204–241. (In Russian).

Nipperdey H.C. (ed.) (1929) Die Grundrechte und Grundpflichten der Reichsverfassung: Kommentar zum zweiten Teil der Reichsverfassung. Bd.1: Allgemeine Bedeutung der Grundrechte und die Artikel 102–117, Веrlin: Scriptor-Ver. (In German).

Posner R.A. (2012) The Rise and Fall of Judicial Self-Restraint. California Law Review, vol.100, no.3, pp.519–556.

Rawls J. (1993) Political Liberalism, New York: Columbia University Press.

Roche J.P. (1955) Judicial Self-Restraint. The American Political Science Review, vol.49, no.3, pp.762–772.

Scalia A., Garner B.A. (2012) Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West.

Schlink B. (ed.) (2000) Weimar: a jurisprudence of crisis, Berkeley, CA; London: University of California Press.

Shlink B. (2012) Proportsional'nost': k probleme balansa fundamental'nykh prav i obshchestvennykh tseley [Proportionality: to the problem of the balance of fundamental rights and public goals]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.21, no.2, pp.56–76. (In Russian).

Shmagin A. (2012) Osnovy nemetskoy metodiki tolkovaniya prava [Fundamentals of the German methodology for the interpretation of law]. Vestnik grazhdanskogo prava, vol.12, no.4, pp.247–284. (In Russian).

Shustrov D.G. (2019) Mezhdu Stsilloy i Kharibdoy: konstitutsionnyy kontrol' za popravkami k konstitutsii i politika [Between Scylla and Charybdis: judicial review of constitutional amendments and politics]. Vestnik Mo­skovskogo universiteta. Seriya 11: Pravo, no.2, pp.81–103. (In Russian).

Soboleva A.K. (2000) Kanony tolkovaniya v prave [Canons of interpretation in law]. Rossiyskaya yustitsiya, no.10, pp.44–46. (In Russian).

Starck C. (ed.) (1976) Bundesverfassungsgericht und Grundgesetz. Festgabe aus Anlaß des 25-jährigen Bestehens des Bundesverfassungsgerichts. Bd.2: Verfassungsauslegung, Tübingen: J.C.B.Mohr (Paul Siebeck). (In German).

Tayeva N.E. (2014) Nekotorye problemy vyyavleniya konstitutsionno-pravovogo smysla norm Konstitutsionnym Sudom RF [Some problems of revealing the constitutional-legal sense of norms by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation]. Konstitutsionnoe i munitsipal'noe pravo, no.12, pp.24–28. (In Russian).

Thayer J.B. (1898) A Preliminary Treatise on Evidence at the Common Law. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and company.

Thompson J.A. (1982) Principles and Theories of Constitutional Interpretation and Adjudication: Some Preliminary Notes. Melbourne University Law Review, vol.13, pp.597–616.

Tumanov V.A. (ed.) (2000) Evropeyskiy Sud po pravam cheloveka: Izbrannye resheniya [European Court of Human Rights. Selected Solutions], in 2 vols., Moscow: Norma. (In Russian).

Vlasenko N.A. (2011) Razumnost' i pravo: svyaz' yavleniy i puti issledovaniya [Reasonableness and law: the relationship of phenomena and research]. Zhurnal rossiyskogo prava, no.11, pp.45–57. (In Russian).