Beyond the Text: Justice Scalia's Originalism in Practice

34 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2017 Last revised: 3 Oct 2017

See all articles by Michael D. Ramsey

Michael D. Ramsey

University of San Diego School of Law

Date Written: April 17, 2017


This article, part of a symposium on the late Justice Antonin Scalia, considers Justice Scalia’s use of constitutional originalism as a practical methodology, as reflected in his judicial opinions. Its aim is not comprehensive, for that is likely beyond the scope of any single article. Rather, its goal is to identify central and perhaps unexpected components of Justice Scalia’s approach as well as to identify areas where his methodology remained undeveloped. Part I describes four prominent aspects of his use of originalism to decide cases. In particular, it discusses ways in which Justice Scalia went beyond the conventional textualist focus on the Constitution’s words and phrases and direct evidence of the ways they were used at the time of enactment. Although critics have used these departures to accuse Scalia of inconsistency, this Part argues that they are better understood as components of an originalist methodology that was less strictly textualist than is often supposed. Part II identifies four areas central to practical applications of originalism where Justice Scalia did not fully develop his approach, and where a textualist account seems unlikely to provide ready solutions.

Keywords: originalism, textualism, Scalia, constitutional law, constitutional interpretation

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Ramsey, Michael D., Beyond the Text: Justice Scalia's Originalism in Practice (April 17, 2017). 92 Notre Dame Law Review 1945 (2017), Available at SSRN:

Michael D. Ramsey (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

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