Is Originalism Too Conservative?

13 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2012

See all articles by Keith E. Whittington

Keith E. Whittington

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: June 1, 2012


Originalism as an approach to constitutional theory and constitutional interpretation is often associated with conservative politics. Is originalism a principled theory of constitutional interpretation, or is it merely a cover for reaching politically conservative results in court? Is originalism theoretically interesting independent of its connection to conservative politics? This essay argues that originalism is a principled theory of constitutional interpretation and not merely a rationalization for conservatism. The association of conservative politics with originalism is not accidental, however, and conservatives are often likely to find originalism to be a more normatively attractive approach to constitutional interpretation than liberals generally will. Focusing on originalist theory rather than judicial decision-making, this essay considers the ways in which originalism intersects with conservatism and the ways in which originalism might diverge from conservatism.

Keywords: originalism, constitutional interpretation, judicial review, conservatism, Reagan, Scalia

Suggested Citation

Whittington, Keith E., Is Originalism Too Conservative? (June 1, 2012). Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 34 (2011): 29. Available at SSRN:

Keith E. Whittington (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1012
United States
609-258-3453 (Phone)
609-258-1110 (Fax)


Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics