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 originalist (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

The only difference between the two sides is that liberals are transparent about their political agenda, while conservatives, using originalism to make problematic claims of detachment, are not. Joseph J. Ellis, WSJ, "Stop Pretending the Supreme Court Is Above Politics," 13 Sep. 2018 Thanks in part to his persistence, originalism has triumphed, as demonstrated by the canonization of fellow originalist Antonin Scalia and the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch, Judge Kavanaugh and other originalists to the federal bench. Mark Pulliam, WSJ, "Robert Bork’s Proud Legacy and the Senate’s Shameful One," 31 Aug. 2018 According to one study, the incidence of the word originalism in law-review articles has risen from 15 between 1980 and 1984 to 2,351 between 2010 and 2014. Simon Van Zuylen-wood, Daily Intelligencer, "How Neil Gorsuch Became the Second-Most-Polarizing Man in Washington," 28 May 2018 This approach has variously been referred to as strict construction, original intent, interpretivism, judicial restraint, textualism and originalism. Mark Pulliam, WSJ, "Robert Bork’s Proud Legacy and the Senate’s Shameful One," 31 Aug. 2018 Kavanaugh has historically applied principles of textualism and originalism to cases — legal traditions that advocate for an interpretation of the Constitution based on the meaning that the text would have had at the time it was written. Abigail Simon, Time, "President Trump Picked Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Who Is He?," 10 July 2018 At the end of the day, this comes down to originalism, constitutionalism. Fox News, "Sekulow: Kavanaugh will be a brilliant Supreme Court justice," 10 July 2018 All three, like Kavanaugh, are proponents of a school of constitutional thought called originalism, which argues that the Constitution should be interpreted exactly as its words were understood at the time they were written over 230 years ago. Lauren Young, Teen Vogue, "Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh's Track Record on Gun Control, Reproductive Rights, and More," 10 July 2018 Kavanaugh has historically applied principles of textualism – judging cases by the strict meaning of the law as-written – and originalism to cases. Abigail Simon, Time, "What to Know About the Potential Nominees President Trump Has Interviewed for the Supreme Court," 3 July 2018

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 1 + -ism

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Statistics for originalism

Last Updated

27 Mar 2019

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Time Traveler for originalism

The first known use of originalism was in 1980

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