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Judicial restraint refers to the doctrine that judges' own philosophies or policy preferences should not be injected into the law and should whenever reasonably possible construe the law so as to avoid second guessing the policy decisions made by other governmental institutions such as Congress, the President and state legislatures. This view is based on the concept that judges have no popular mandate to act as policy makers and should defer to the decisions of the elected "political" branches of the Federal government and of the states in matters of policy making so long as these policymakers stay within the limits of their powers as defined by the US Constitution and the constitutions of the several states.
The deference to lawmakers exhibited by exercising judicial restraint is opposed to the concept of judicial activism. The activist seeks to determine what is "just," not necessarily what is intended by law. In the area of constitutional law, the judicial activist views the U.S. Constitution as a living, dynamic document which must necessarily be interpreted to meet the needs of modern times.