Justice Scalia and Originalism: May They Rest in Peace

Ronald A. Lindsay

As a jurist, Antonin Scalia will likely be remembered most for championing the “originalist" view of constitutional law—that is, the view that in determining how constitutional provisions should be applied today, we need to adhere without deviation to the “original" meaning of the provisions. Scalia maintained this is the only legitimate way for unelected judges to apply the Constitution because otherwise they would be acting as legislators. Scalia repeatedly heaped scorn on the view that judges should interpret constitutional provisions in light of contemporary conditions and standards.

The originalist view has some superficial merit, which, in part, explains why it continues to have supporters. On this view, judges are not influenced by their personal beliefs. Instead, they are objective legal technicians who hold their positions because they have the skills necessary to understand and apply the constitutional manual. They’re like plumbers but with more education—because, you know, the piping in our legal system is more complex than that in your bathroom.

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