When Should Original Meanings Matter?

58 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2008 Last revised: 7 Oct 2008

See all articles by Richard Primus

Richard Primus

University of Michigan Law School


Constitutional theory lacks an account of when each of the familiar methods of interpretation - textualism, originalism, stare decisis, and so on - should be used. The dominant tendency is to regard all methods as potentially applicable in every case. In contrast, this Article proposes that each method should be understood as applicable in some categories of cases but not in others, much as a physical tool is appropriate for some but not all kinds of household tasks. The Article then applies this approach to identify the categories of cases in which attention to original meaning is, or is not, a valid factor in constitutional decisionmaking.

Keywords: Originalism, textualism, constitutional decisionmaking

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Primus, Richard, When Should Original Meanings Matter?. U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 94, Michigan Law Review, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1105865

Richard Primus (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

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