How Big Data Can Increase Originalism’s Methodological Rigor: Using Corpus Linguistics to Reveal Original Language Conventions

61 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2015 Last revised: 13 Jun 2017

See all articles by Lee J. Strang

Lee J. Strang

University of Toledo College of Law

Date Written: February 2, 2017


Big Data is everywhere. The Big Data revolution is not only the collection of information; it is also the use of that data to disclose new, previously unknown information about us and our lives.

Originalism is on the cusp of its own Big Data revolution. For the first time, both a body of data of the Constitution’s original meaning and the technology to effectively utilize that data are available. In this Article, I argue that originalism should embrace its own Big Data transformation and that doing so will help originalism achieve greater methodological rigor. I argue that originalists who embrace a Big Data transformation will be able to reliably and accurately reveal original language conventions.

In this Article, I bring together a widely observed phenomenon — the theoretical move toward original meaning originalism — with an emergent phenomenon — the use of computer-assisted research technologies and techniques (“CART”) in originalism. I argue that originalists’ conceptual move toward original meaning originalism, when coupled with their adoption of CART, will reduce the force of the Inaccuracy Critique — the claim that originalism’s reliance on history makes any resulting constitutional law inaccurate.

Originalism rests on the premise that it is able to ascertain the Constitution’s meaning with reasonable accuracy. A recurring criticism of originalism is that, on the contrary, originalism leads to inaccuracy in constitutional law. Originalism leads to inaccuracy because it depends on an activity — the recovery of the Constitution’s meaning via the methods of history — that cannot bear the weight. Unlike criticisms that originalism leads to normatively bad constitutional interpretations, the Inaccuracy Critique contends that originalism fails on its own terms — that its methodology is flawed.

In response to this criticism, many originalists made a major conceptual move: they rearticulated originalism as original meaning originalism in place of original intent originalism. In this Article, I build on that conceptual move, and I tie it to a modification to the method of historical research for originalism that will make the process more accurate. In particular, I argue that original meaning originalism’s focus on the text’s original conventional meaning, coupled with now-widely available CART, blunts the Inaccuracy Critique. By harnessing the power of Big Data, originalism moves toward a more rigorous methodology.

Keywords: originalism, corpus linguistics, inaccuracy critique, original meaning, original intent

Suggested Citation

Strang, Lee J., How Big Data Can Increase Originalism’s Methodological Rigor: Using Corpus Linguistics to Reveal Original Language Conventions (February 2, 2017). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 50, 2017, Available at SSRN: or

Lee J. Strang (Contact Author)

University of Toledo College of Law ( email )

2801 W. Bancroft Street
Toledo, OH 43606
United States
419-530-2877 (Phone)

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