Originalism and Determining Meaning

Originalism and Determining Meaning

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.”  

“Liberty is to faction what air is to fire.”

― Federalist No. 10

In addition, Originalists, over time, have used different methods and relied on different sources to conduct original public meaning analysis, including looking at Founding-era documents, dictionaries, and newer scholarly methods such as corpus linguistics.  We explore similarities and differences among these schools of thought.

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11 of 11: What is the Difference Between Interpretation and Construction? [No. 86]

What is the “New Originalism” and does it differ from earlier Originalist theories? Professor Randy Barnett explains that New Originalism still relies on original public meaning interpretation but then proceeds one step further. Constitutional c ... What is the “New Originalism” and does it differ from earlier Originalist theories? Professor Randy Barnett explains that New Originalism still relies on original public meaning interpretation but then proceeds one step further. Constitutional construction takes the original meaning and then applies it to current legal inquiries and circumstances.

Professor Randy E. Barnett is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches constitutional law and contracts, and is Director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution.

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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