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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2 of 11: Originalism and Uncovering Meaning [No. 86]

How do we determine the original public meaning of the Constitution? Professor Jennifer Mascott gives an overview of different ways we can conduct original public meaning analysis, including a relatively new approach: corpus linguistics, which infor ... How do we determine the original public meaning of the Constitution? Professor Jennifer Mascott gives an overview of different ways we can conduct original public meaning analysis, including a relatively new approach: corpus linguistics, which informs our understanding of original public meaning by looking at the whole body, the whole corpus of language at the time.

Jennifer Mascott is an Assistant Professor of Law at the Antonin Scalia Law School. Professor Mascott writes in the areas of administrative and constitutional law.

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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.

These videos were filmed when Jennifer Mascott was a professor at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School. Her views are entirely her own.

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