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Georgetown University Law Center

Originalism

Legal Theory

2011

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What Is Originalism? The Evolution Of Contemporary Originalist Theory, Lawrence B. Solum Jan 2011

What Is Originalism? The Evolution Of Contemporary Originalist Theory, Lawrence B. Solum

Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works

Debates over “originalism” have been a central focus of contemporary constitutional theory for three decades. One of the features of this debate has been disagreement about what “originalism” is. More worrisome is the possibility that the arguments between contemporary originalists and their opponents, the “living constitutionalists”, are confused–-with each side of the debate making erroneous assumptions about the content of their opponent’s theories.

The aim of this chapter is to clarify these debates by providing a history of contemporary originalism and then developing an account of the core or focal content of originalist theory. The history reveals that ...