Originalism, in a Nutshell

March 31, 2010

Emily C. Cumberland

What is originalism? It is a bedrock of constitutional interpretation for federalists, but many have found it difficult to define comprehensively what it means. Originalism is, broadly speaking, a catchall term for methods of constitutional interpretation principled on fidelity to the Constitution. It represents not one school of thought but a spectrum of theories about how the Constitution should be interpreted. There is no solid consensus as to when originalism became a formally-recognized method of constitutional interpretation, although at least one account credits Paul Brest with coining the term in “The Misconceived Quest for Original Understanding” in 1980. Another account claims then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III first publicized originalism in a speech before the American Bar Association in 1985. Regardless of its exact debut, originalism has become sensational fodder for debate among constitutional law scholars over the past 30 years...

Originalism, in a Nutshell