originalism

noun
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

Among the criticisms of originalism is that the Constitution, as Breyer has said, uses broad language that the founders knew would have to be flexible to changes in society. Jessica Gresko, The Denver Post, "Neil Gorsuch rues loss of civility in public life in his new book," 6 Sep. 2019 Among the criticisms of originalism is that the Constitution, as Breyer has said, uses broad language that the founders knew would have to be flexible to changes in society. Washington Post, "AP Interview: Gorsuch rues loss of civility but mum on Trump," 7 Sep. 2019 Just as embarrassing for Roberts and the majority, the Court has rarely relied on originalism to resolve constitutional questions in the field of law and democracy. Guy-uriel E. Charles, Time, "SCOTUS's Ruling on Gerrymandering Endangers US Democracy," 11 July 2019 The fact of the matter is that Roberts, abetted by a conservative majority, is uninterested in policing the ground rules of modern democracy, and originalism is the figleaf intended to camouflage that desire. Guy-uriel E. Charles, Time, "SCOTUS's Ruling on Gerrymandering Endangers US Democracy," 11 July 2019 Since the beginnings of originalism in the 1970s, most conservatives have advocated an ethic of judicial restraint. Matthew Continetti, National Review, "The Conservative Sensibility Is George Will’s Definitive Declaration," 20 June 2019 So why is Wilentz so interested in a form of antislavery originalism? Nicholas Guyatt, The New York Review of Books, "How Proslavery Was the Constitution?," 6 June 2019 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

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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Last Updated

25 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for originalism

The first known use of originalism was in 1980

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