In 1845, antislavery constitutionalist Lysander Spooner argued that the Declaration of Independence was originally a legal constitution with a direct bearing on how one ought to interpret the status of slavery under the Constitution of 1787. In 1889, the congressional act establishing the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington required that their state constitutions "not be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence," as if the two documents were of a piece. In 1995, attorney Christopher Darden argued to the jury in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial that slain victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman had rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as stated in the Constitution, which is perhaps where many Americans think this famous phrase is found. Darden's "mistake" reflects a widespread perception that in some way the Declaration of Independence does embody the principles to which Americans are constitutionally committed. Moreover, that perception is shared by some legal scholars. In fact, throughout American political history, there have been legal scholars, judges, and other interpreters of our Constitution who have contended that the Declaration of Independence has (or deserves) a privileged place in constitutional interpretation.
Charles H. Cosgrove,
The Declaration of Independence in Constitutional Interpretation: A Selective History and Analysis,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol32/iss1/4