Originalism as Fable (Reviewing Eric Segall, Originalism as Faith)
33 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2019 Last revised: 29 Jul 2019
Date Written: January 24, 2019
Eric Segall’s Originalism as Faith provides both a history of the originalist movement in constitutional interpretation and a critique of that movement from the perspective of legal realism. This Review Essay summarizes Segall’s main argument: as originalism has abandoned deference to the political branches, it has become indistinguishable from its nemesis, living constitutionalism. Emptied of substance, originalism becomes nothing more than an expression of faith. Segall makes his argument very convincingly, evidencing both his knowledge of originalism in all its variants and his mastery of constitutional doctrine.
This Essay offers two ways in which Segall’s exemplary work might be supplemented. First, it teases out the various meanings that “faith” can have in this context, ranging from quasi-religious belief to myth to ideology to political credo. Second, it offers two alternative narratives as supplements to Segall’s legal realist critique. Originalists insist that their approach has “bite,” which they contend distinguishes it from unprincipled living constitutionalism. In the alternative, Jack Balkin reconciles originalism and living constitutionalism. Legal decision-makers, following his “living originalism,” may be legal realists, but their construction of the Constitution must be constrained by their duties of good faith and fidelity to the Constitution.
Originalism with bite and living originalism provide theoretical responses to Segall’s challenges, but their positions must also accord with the reality of constitutional adjudication. Segall challenges originalists to reconcile their faith in unelected judges with a Constitution designed to provide governmental accountability through democratic processes. If they cannot do so, originalism is not a true account of our judicial processes but a fable designed to disguise a new version of legislation by the judiciary as the neutral application of legal rules.
Keywords: Originalism, Living Constitutionalism, Legal Realism, Constitutional Interpretation, Legal History, Constitutional Law
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