Geof Stone Argues Against Constitutional Originalism

In their push for "original meaning," conservatives stand on shaky ground.

The Framers of the American Constitution were visionaries. They designed our Constitution to endure. They sought not only to address the specific challenges facing the nation during their lifetimes, but also to establish the foundational principles that would sustain and guide the new nation into an uncertain future.

The text of the Constitution reflects this vision. It defines our most fundamental freedoms in general terms: "freedom of speech," "due process of law," "free exercise" of religion, "equal protection of the laws." The Constitution sets forth governmental powers in similarly general terms: Congress may regulate "commerce . . . among the several states," the president will "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," the courts are authorized to decide "cases" and "controversies."

These phrases are not self-defining. The Framers understood that they were entrusting to future generations the responsibility to draw upon their intelligence, judgment, and experience to give concrete meaning to these broad principles over time. As Chief Justice John Marshall observed almost two centuries ago, "We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding . . . intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."

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