tex·​tu·​al·​ism | \ ˈteks-chə-wə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce textualism (audio) , -chə-ˌli-zəm \

Definition of textualism

: strict or rigid adherence to a text (such as the text of the Scriptures) specifically, US law : a legal philosophy that laws and legal documents (such as the U.S. Constitution) should be interpreted by considering only the words used in the law or document as they are commonly understood Justice Scalia of the United States Supreme Court has championed an approach called textualism. Scalia and others argue that legislative history should rarely be relevant, in essence advocating sentence meaning over speaker's meaning. To be more exact, textualism claims that it does try to discover the intent of the legislature, but limits this inquiry to the text of the statute itself. — Peter M. Tiersma — compare originalism

Other Words from textualism

textualist \ ˈteks-​chə-​wə-​list How to pronounce textualism (audio) , -​chə-​list \ adjective
a textualist interpretation
textualist noun, plural textualists
Textualists focus on the meaning of words and eschew more abstract inquiries about the law's purposes. — Marc O. DeGirolami

Examples of textualism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In a 2015 appearance at Harvard Law School, Justice Kagan said that textualism had triumphed across the ideological spectrum. Adam Liptak, New York Times, 30 June 2022 Nobody was more identified with the argument than Scalia, who advanced it relentlessly in constitutional law and equally insistently under the label of textualism in approaching statutory law. Dan Mclaughlin, National Review, 23 Mar. 2022 Originalism and textualism aim to wield historical rigor to help constrain judges to follow rules written by the people’s representatives. Dan Mclaughlin, National Review, 17 Mar. 2022 In a nutshell, textualism generally means reading the statute as it is written. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 24 Jan. 2022 Many of the court's conservatives have adopted a different view, vowing adherence to originalism and textualism which resists evolution in interpretation based on changing circumstances in society and the law. Devin Dwyer, ABC News, 10 Feb. 2022 Justice Antonin Scalia spent his early years on the court writing separately to expound the virtues of originalism and textualism. Noah Robertson, The Christian Science Monitor, 27 Jan. 2022 Justice Breyer’s legal interpretations have stood in contrast to originalism and textualism, methods many conservatives follow that emphasize the literal meaning of legal documents when they were adopted. Laura Kusisto, WSJ, 27 Jan. 2022 There are those in the conservative legal movement who genuinely think that originalism and textualism are the most reliable and most value-neutral way to interpret the Constitution and read federal statutes. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 2 Dec. 2021 See More

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

First Known Use of textualism

1847, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for textualism

textual + -ism

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The first known use of textualism was in 1847

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Dictionary Entries Near textualism

textual criticism



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Last Updated

11 Jul 2022

Cite this Entry

“Textualism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/textualism. Accessed 7 Aug. 2022.

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