orig·​i·​nal·​ism | \ ə-ˈri-jə-nə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce originalism (audio) , -ˈrij-nə- \

Definition of originalism

US law
: a legal philosophy that the words in documents and especially the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted as they were understood at the time they were written Some judges believe the best way to interpret the Constitution … lies in an approach called originalism. The judges who follow this approach look to history to discover what those who wrote the Constitution most likely thought about the content and scope of a constitutional phrase, and they interpret the phrase accordingly.— Stephen Breyer The main point of originalism, which has driven conservative legal theory for a generation, is that the Constitution does not evolve.— Garrett Epps — compare textualism

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Other Words from originalism

originalist \ ə-​ˈri-​jə-​nə-​list How to pronounce originalism (audio) , -​ˈrij-​nə-​ \ adjective
an originalist judge But White does not usually subscribe to the originalist school of interpretation which sacralizes the Founding Fathers and the text of the Constitution as the fount of wisdom. — Rhonda Copelon
originalist noun, plural originalists
Originalists attempt to discern the original meaning of a legal document—most frequently the Constitution. — Marc O. DeGirolami

Examples of originalism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web There, they were joined by other constituencies on the right, like gun rights advocates and economic conservatives who see a judiciary that embraces originalism as key to their policy agendas. Tierney Sneed, CNN, 4 Sep. 2021 Scalia overturned a century of jurisprudence with an argument based on originalism—choosing to interpret the words as they were allegedly intended at the time of their writing. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 7 May 2021 Some current justices adhere to the Scalia method of legal interpretation, known as originalism, and his barbed style. Joan Biskupic, CNN, 21 May 2021 In recent decades, as conservative jurists – and judicial philosophies like originalism – have come to dominate the high court, how those justices interpret stare decisis has become the defining debate. Henry Gass, The Christian Science Monitor, 20 May 2021 Such heroic academic efforts don’t diminish the deeper truth that there is something vaguely absurd about the stress that originalism places on historical research into language. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 7 May 2021 Most of it—low taxes, regulatory relief, a robust military, constitutional originalism, the Second Amendment—is identifiable with Ronald Reagan. Daniel Henninger, WSJ, 3 Mar. 2021 Many conservatives blasted Gorsuch’s reasoning as faux originalism. John Mccormack, National Review, 24 Feb. 2021 Scalia pointed to his decision upholding the constitutionality of flag-burning as proof that originalism is not a mask for conservative politics. Matthew Continetti, National Review, 17 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'originalism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of originalism

1980, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for originalism

original entry 2 + -ism

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The first known use of originalism was in 1980

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Last Updated

5 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Originalism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/originalism. Accessed 17 Oct. 2021.

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