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Originalism is a theory of Constitutional interpretation that places primacy on the meaning of the text of the Constitution - yet the question of determining how much can be understood from the Constitution is debated among Originalists. Some Originalists think that the text only provides a narrow or ambiguous meaning, leaving room for significant construction of meaning to fill in the gaps. Other Originalists argue that the text itself supplies more explicit meaning, leaving less room or need for construction. This unit in the No. 86 project explores different views in this debate about the "construction zone."
Professor Ilan Wurman explains how indeterminacy is always a factor in Constitutional interpretation. Even the Founders realized that some text would have to be debated and interpreted by Congress, after thoughtful consideration of plausible meaning
Professor Ilan Wurman explains how indeterminacy is always a factor in Constitutional interpretation. Even the Founders realized that some text would have to be debated and interpreted by Congress, after thoughtful consideration of plausible meanings. Today, Originalists need to approach the Constitution in the same way - with the understanding that there may be more than one original public meaning of a word or phrase. Different Originalists may arrive at different answers. Sometimes there is a clear “right” answer but there can often be a range of plausible interpretations.
Ilan Wurman is a visiting assistant professor at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, where he teaches administrative law and constitutional law. He is the author of A Debt Against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism (Cambridge 2017).
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As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.
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