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.

Play the next video in the series?

Watch Now

9 of 11: Conceptual v. Normative Defenses of Originalism [No. 86]

How do Originalists defend their position? Professor Ilan Wurman briefly explains the reasons and uses for conceptual originalism and normative originalism. Professor Wurman makes the case that Originalists need both kinds of defenses to effectivel ... How do Originalists defend their position?

Professor Ilan Wurman briefly explains the reasons and uses for conceptual originalism and normative originalism. Professor Wurman makes the case that Originalists need both kinds of defenses to effectively counter non-originalist, living Constitution arguments.

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).

* * * * *

As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.

Subscribe to the series’ playlist:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWwcngsYgoUXu97xPQ7LdAJ0Oh7I7w-Dt