William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal
Striding out of Babel: Originalism, Its Critics, and the Promise of our American Constitution
This Article pursues a therapeutic approach to end the debate over constitutional originalism. For almost fifty years that debate has wrestled with the question whether constitutional interpretations and decisions should look to the original intentions, expectations, and understandings with respect to the constitutional text, and if not, what. Building on a series of prior articles exploring the jurisprudential foundations of the debate, this Article characterizes the debate over originalism as pathological. The Article begins by describing what a constitutional therapy is.
The debate about originalism has been and remains sterile and unproductive, and the lack of progress argues powerfully for the conclusion that a successful resolution of the debate is not likely to be achieved by any of the protagonists. Instead, the debate should be abandoned.
At a conceptual level, there are a variety of sources for the pathology of the debate, but a series of tacit ontological and other jurisprudential assumptions play a central role. The Article explains why neither side in the debate over constitutional originalism can hope to prevail. Any hope to revive or reconstruct the debate seems at once implausible and unlikely to deliver any significant doctrinal or methodological payoff to our American constitutional law. If we articulate the tacit premises of the debate, we can recognize why the debate over originalism reflects more confusion than substantive disagreements. As we do so, we begin to see the way forward beyond the debate. Making the source of the debate’s disagreements appear confused rather than important also provides ample motivation to move on. This Article concludes by arguing that such a postdebate constitutional discourse and practice is indeed possible, as well as desirable.