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.
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.