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New: Originalist Methodology

Thu, 21 Apr 2016 06:36:20 +0100

This essay sketches an originalist methodology using ideas from legal theory and theoretical linguistics, including the distinctions between interpretation and construction and between semantics and pragmatics. The Essay aims to dispel a number of misconceptions about the methods used by originalists. Among these is the notion that originalists rely on dictionary definitions to determine the communicative content of the constitutional text. Although dictionaries may play some role, the better approach emphasizes primary evidence such as that provided by corpus linguistics. Another misconception is that originalists do not consider context; to the contrary, the investigation of context plays a central role in originalist methodology. Part I of this Essay articulates a theoretical framework that draws on ideas from contemporary legal theory and linguistics. Part II investigates methods for determining the constitutional text’s semantic content. Part III turns to methods for ...

New: Republican Constitutionalism

Sat, 26 Mar 2016 09:25:43 +0000

This essay brings the ideas presented in "Our Republican Constitution" by Randy E. Barnett into juxtaposition with two other important ideas in the broad tradition of republican constitutional thought. The first of these ideas is virtue (or human excellence) in the classic or Aristotelian sense of that word. The second idea is liberty as that concept was understood in the republican political thought. Once these two ideas are brought into conversation with the notion of individual sovereignty, we can begin to glimpse a revised vision of republican constitutionalism. Although this vision has much in common with that offered by Professor Barnett, there are differences as well. Part I explicates a theory of republican virtue that draws on Aristotle’s theory of the human excellences as developed in contemporary virtue ethics, arguing that virtue is both a necessary means and the primary end of a republican constitution. Part II turns to the notion of republican liberty (or ...

REVISION: The Fixation Thesis: The Role of Historical Fact in Original Meaning

Tue, 19 Jan 2016 19:16:10 +0000

The central debate in contemporary constitutional theory is the clash between originalists and living constitutionalists. Originalism is the view that the original meaning of the constitutional text should constrain or bind constitutional practice — paradigmatically, the decision of constitutional cases by the United States Supreme Court. Living constitutionalists contend that the content of constitutional law should evolve over time in response to changing values and circumstances. One of the central questions in this debate is over the question whether the meaning of the constitutional text is fixed or changeable. This essay makes the case for the Fixation Thesis — the claim that the linguistic meaning (or communicative content) of the constitutional text was fixed when each provision was framed and ratified. Although the Fixation Thesis is a basic assumption of almost every version of originalism or textualism, it has never been the explicit focus of an extended examination ...