Originalism

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US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has described “originalism” – or interpreting the country’s Constitution as per the intentions of its 18th century founding leaders – as her legal philosophy.

 

What is ‘originalism’?

  • In legal philosophy, this theory prescribes that while resolving disputes, judges should interpret the constitution as it was understood at the time it was ratified, irrespective of whether they personally agree or disagree with the outcome of a case decided this way.
  • According to originalists, the meaning of the constitution is fixed at the time of its framing, either in the form of the meaning of the words used, or the intentions of the drafters. The job of the court is to stick to this original meaning.

Background 

  • The word ‘originalism’ was coined in the 1980s, and has since been popular among US conservatives, who have sought to promote judicial restraint on the country’s federal courts. Adherents of originalism believe that social change should be brought about by new laws made by elected representatives, and not through judicial activism, in which judges make new interpretations of the constitution.

 

‘Living constitution’ theory 

  • The legal philosophy which is said to be the opposite of originalism is ‘living constitution’ or ‘modernism’. This theory, espoused by likes of the late Justice Ginsburg, believes that the constitution should be updated with times to encompass changing societal needs.

 

 

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