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How to Read the Constitution: Self-Government and the Jurisprudence of Originalism

How to Read the Constitution: Self-Government and the Jurisprudence of Originalism

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Published by Judy Kratochvil
The argument that original meaning should guide constitutional interpretation is nearly as old as the Constitution itself. Before there were strict constructionists, before there were judicial activists, there were originalists. In those early days, few seriously objected to the notion that the Constitution should be read in accord with its original meaning, though there were plenty of debates over how best to ascertain that original meaning and what exactly was required to be faithful to the Constitution of the founding.

The argument that original meaning should guide constitutional interpretation is nearly as old as the Constitution itself. Before there were strict constructionists, before there were judicial activists, there were originalists. In those early days, few seriously objected to the notion that the Constitution should be read in accord with its original meaning, though there were plenty of debates over how best to ascertain that original meaning and what exactly was required to be faithful to the Constitution of the founding.

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Published by: Judy Kratochvil on Jun 06, 2007
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05/08/2014

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N. 5
How to R th Costtto: Sf-Gort  th Jrsprc of Orgs
Keith E. Whittington
T
h agumt that ga mag shud gudsttuta tptat s ay as d as thCsttut ts. B th  stt stu-tsts, b th  juda atvsts, th gasts. I ths ay days,  susy bjtdt th t that th Csttut shud b ad ad th ts ga mag, thugh th pty  dbats v h bst t asta that g-a mag ad hat xaty as qud t bathu t th Csttut  th udg.Th md gasm dbats a dt. Thauthty  th ga mag  th Csttu-t has b uty hagd  bas ays. Tham that th Csttut shud b udstd d-ty—that t s a “vg Csttut” that massmthg dt tday tha t mat h t asadptd,  xamp—s  ts qut d. It s thught that adh t ga mag s  a-tatv amg may, a h that mght b mad that mght t. I gasm s t xaty  thdsv, t at ast has t b ddd.F judgs h sh t xs th p  jud-a v, adh t th ga mag  thCsttut s th y h that s justab. Wmght us th aguag  th Csttut t hpmak ss  ad t xpss u hghst pta d-as ad aspats. W mght b m th -sttuta txt t hp md us  u past ptastuggs  sp us t tak   ata pj-ts. Wh judgs attmpt t st asd th py d-ss  u td pstatvs, h thy amthat th  sttuta judgmts tump ths ths, th thy at st suh ams  mpta dasm uhd  a s sttutaht. Judgs a ttd t spt h asstgthat a a s u ad vd
only
h thy a bak upsuh assts th a psuasv xpaat  hth a vats th mag  th Csttut as tas amd ad atd.By th ga mag  th Csttut, I amg t th mag that th sttuta txtas udstd t hav at th tm t as datdad atd. T adpt gasm ds t ma that judgs must hd a séa t a th spt  JamsMads t ask hm hat as  hs md  Pha-dpha  th summ  1787  h h ud dath th tky sttuta qust that s asd by th as b th ut. It ds ma that judgsshud t   t pu th  pta vausad das t th Csttut. It mas that th -stat tuhst  sttuta a shud b thpupss ad vaus  ths h had th authty t
make
th Csttut—t  ths h a hagdth gvg ud t ad abdg by t.O mptat pt shud b ad ay. Thmmtmt t gasm s t a mmtmt tth patua pats, pas, ad xptats patua ams   th udg gat. Wa bud by th sttuta txt that thy adpt-d ad by th pps mbdd  that txt. Th
Th Htag Fudat’s Fst Pps Ss xps th udamta das  svatsm ad th Ama pta tadt.F m mat a 1-800-544-4843  vst
heritage.org/bookstore.
Nthg tt h s t b stud as ssay tg th vs Th Htag Fudat  as a attmpt t ad  hd th passag  ay b b Cgss.
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214 Massahustts Avu, NEWashgt, DC 20002-4999202 | 546.4400
htag.g
 
N. 5udstadgs abut th pata mpats ths pps ad th patua appats thatthy xptd t  m thm may b hpu tus as  ty t gu ut hat xaty ths sttu-ta pps , but ths ay appats aay quvat t th sttuta qumtsthmsvs.Th uds ad ay gvmt as h mmbs   s t th udg ga-t may  hav uy mpmtd th pps th Csttut, but  may ass thy dd t.Sm ssus may smpy t hav as at a aydat,  th umstas th hh thy dat mayt hav tstd th mts  u xtt  ths -sttuta pps. Thy may hav s-susymtd thmsvs, adptg ps that dd t tst stth th mts  th ps that thy thughtth gvmt pssssd  th ghts t hh thythught dvduas  ttd. Thy ud as bg abut hat th  pps qud.Th mmbs  th udg gat  asaa as ay  th mts  huma as ad th tmptats  pta p. Thy datdsttuts psy baus thy k that thyad th susss ud d stat mds th pps that thy hd da ad  th u-data agmts that thy had stuk. As sttu-ta tpts,  a qud t as m thpps that thy ad d, t t tak th d th patua appats that shud b mad ths pps. Th task  sttuta tpta-t qus sdm, ag, ad dsmt, butt as qus humty ad dsp. Th patvqust  a athu sttuta tpt s that
would
Mads d  suh a stuat,  vhat
did
Mads d  suh a stuat, but hat dsth pp that Mads ad hs s t tth Csttut qu  suh a stuat. Rt th uds s dspsab t asg suh aqust, but t mas y a statg pt.Ths shud as aut us agast usg ammtmt t gasm th a hstty t th uag  mthds that judgs may mpy t -sv ga pbms. A juspud  gasms ty sstt th tadta dta aay-ss, gagmt th sttuta txt ad stutu,ad attt t sttuta pupss ad vaus.Ogasm ds t sst that judgs sh d-ta aayss  that thy us t da sm th stutu  th Csttut ad th gv-mt that t ats (“utt” thugh ths stu-tua mpats mght b). Ogasm ds sstthat suh tptv ads b gzd as th tsthat thy a. Th vau s  th abty t hp us th pss  dsvg ad appyg th gamag  th Csttut. Thy bm ma tgasm y h th tpt gts that thya m ts, h th mapuat  pdt bms a d  ts,  h a us  agsttuta pupss ads us t g th spays  hh th ga Csttut as dsgdt ahv ths pupss.
WHy ORiGinaliSm?
Th a sva tatd justats  a jus-pud  gasm. Ogasm s mpt  thdsg  a tt sttut. Th adpt  a t-t sttut s justd by th ds t x tapps ad as thm v ths as havg spaght. Th tg  a sttut as th ppt assmb ad,  a mmt  t ad db-at, adpt ths spd pps. Ogasmmaks ss  th at that t as
this
txt ad  ththat as adptd ad atd, ad t has th jud-a quy t dsvg hat as mat by thsh adptd ths txt. A juspud  gasmgzs ad mphaszs that th Csttut s ammuat, a stut, m a authzdagv, th svg pp, ad that th task  thathu tpt s t dsv hat that stutas ad t appy t as th stuat dmads.At hat, a  ths justats a d thxpag th bass  hh judgs a am th au-thty t g th ps mad by td gsa-
 
N. 5ts. Gvmt as  th Utd Stats d txs  ad p by dv ght. Th auth-ty  makg gtmat as that avag tzs axptd t by ms utmaty m th sttu-ta . Gvmt as a hs t makpy th th mtd sp  th pdd gaauthty. Lgsats a td t mak as that atdd t sv th pub gd ad pat thsttuta mts. Th Psdt s td t suth ata tst ad t su that ths as ampmtd tvy. Judgs a t td  thga pups  makg gd py. Judgs a s-td t tpt ad appy th a  th ass adtvss that as b thm.Th am t xs th p  juda v,th am t th authty t g a ths vada, a y b d m th Csttut. ThCsttut ds t,  s may ds, smpy gv judgs th p t vt as. Th p  judav  a patua as s my a  mth juda duty t appy th a—a th a—-ty ad apppaty t th as at had.As Ch Just Jh Masha xpad v ttus ag,  Cgss  t stut th judgsthat a tz b vtd  tas  th tstmy y  tss h th Csttut qust  that a tz b hd may ab  a-ts that  ga h thy  mmttd, th judgs ud hav  h but t gz that thsup a  th Csttut ud hav t gvth as, gadss  th stuts  Cgss.
1
 A juspud  gasm maks btt ss hy Jh Masha as t tha ds ay ata-tv. O judgs dpat m gasm,  thya  g gudd by th ga mag  thCsttut  svg th ass that m bthm, th vy am t th p  juda v bms p t qust.It s asy t gt that th tg  sttutsas a Ama vat. Ca hats ad

 Marbury v. Madison
, 5 U.S. 137, 179 (1803).
amks  gvmt that dd ad m-mmatd th ps  pta bds ad thghts  dvduas  bas atus  th p-ta systm  Btsh Nth Ama p t thAma Rvut. Wth th Rvut, th ms bam s-gvg, ad amg th stats  ths y dpdt mmuts as thdatg   sttuts.Th as v ay sus qust abut hthth Ama stats shud hav tt sttuts.As s as th stats dad th dpd,vutas suh as Jh Adams dad that thpp  th stats “must t th h budgth th  hads, up th badst udat.”Th d t s-susy at  gvmts th mdst  vut, t gz that ths gv-mts  t b mtd gvmts y, ad tspt th at that “th pp  th su  aauthty ad ga  a p” mat that tdsttuta assmbs ud hav t b vdad sttuts datd t pst th   thpp.
2
Fixed PRinCiPleS
Th tg  th Ama sttuts ptst a juspud  gasm  sva ays. Thst t s  th txt  hh thssttuts  tt. Istad  dag upts  a hsty, Ama sttutasmud hav d th xamp  Egad. Th -a hats had spd  tg hat psad bts th kg had gv th a gv-mts ad,  sm stas, hat bts ad pv-gs had b asstd ad gzd. Th Btshsttut ts, hv, sstd  a tadt gvmta pat, ga pta udstad-gs, ad asa tt daats.Th udg gat as auty aa  thd. Jams Ws, a adg mmb  th

 Jh Adams,
The Works of John Adams
, d. Chas FasAdams, v. 3 (Bst: Ltt ad B, 1851), p. 16.

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