Tag Archives: originalism
Should Originalists Enforce Rights More Strictly Against the States Than Against the Federal Government?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf points out that, taken to its logical conclusion, the originalism philosophy espoused by US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should mean that the Constitution places stricter limits on states than it does on the federal government. As Dorf explains, the “original meaning” of the Bill of Rights as it applies to the states should refer to its meaning in 1868 (when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted) rather than 1791 (when the Bill of Rights itself was adopted) because the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Bill of Rights applicable to the states. Dorf describes several key differences between the understanding of the Bill of Rights in 1868 and 1791 and considers whether one of the originalist justices will follow where the logic of their philosophy leads.

Originalism, the Contracts Clause, and the Sveen Case

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf argues that the form of originalism typically espoused by scholars—in which constitutional interpretation aims to recover the original public meaning of the text—often ends up being abused in practice. Judges and justices borrow the respectability of public meaning originalism to justify a generally discredited form of originalism that seeks answers in the framers’ and ratifiers’ intentions and expectations. To illustrate this point, Dorf points to Justice Gorsuch’s recent dissent in Sveen v. Melin, which looks not to the text of the Contracts Clause but to what Justice Gorsuch inferred the framers and ratifiers intended and expected.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more