CJ Marshall Applies the Expressio Unius Canon to the Constitution

January 11th, 2011

A few days ago I noted that in Federalist 83, Hamilton rejects the notion that the Expressio Unius canon should apply to constitutional interpretation.

Even if these maxims had a precise technical sense, corresponding with the idea of those who employ them upon the present occasion, which, however, is not the case, they would still be inapplicable to a constitution of government. In relation to such a subject, the natural and obvious sense of its provisions, apart from any technical rules, is the true criterion of construction.

In Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice Marshall differs. He used the expressio unius canon to note that the enumeration of certain powers in the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court suggests that other powers (such as mandamus) are excluded:

Affirmative words are often, in their operation, negative of other objects than those affirmed, and, in this case, a negative or exclusive sense must be given to them or they have no operation at all.

Hamilton and Marshall disagree. Hmmm… We may need Madison for the tie breaker.