orig·​i·​nal·​ism ə-ˈri-jə-nə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce originalism (audio)
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
originalist 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 Recommended The Supreme Court is now tilted toward originalism, the judicial philosophy that the Constitution should be interpreted according to its original public meaning. Henry Gass, The Christian Science Monitor, 21 Apr. 2024 Breyer sums up textualism and originalism as attempts to make judicial reasoning a science and to make law a list of rules. Louis Menand, The New Yorker, 8 Apr. 2024 Textualism is primarily a way of interpreting statutes, and originalism is a way of interpreting the Constitution. Louis Menand, The New Yorker, 8 Apr. 2024 Sunstein’s pragmatic, consequentialist critique of originalism is no more persuasive. Daniel Foster, National Review, 30 Nov. 2023 See all Example Sentences for originalism 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'originalism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


original entry 2 + -ism

First Known Use

1980, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of originalism was in 1980

Dictionary Entries Near originalism

Cite this Entry

“Originalism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/originalism. Accessed 19 Jun. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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