Originalism and the Sense-Reference Distinction

74 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2005

See all articles by Christopher R. Green

Christopher R. Green

University of Mississippi - School of Law


I deploy the sense-reference distinction and its kin from the philosophy of language to answer the question what in constitutional interpretation should, and should not, be able to change after founders adopt a constitutional provision. I suggest that a constitutional expression's reference, but not its sense, can change. Interpreters should thus give founders' assessments of reference only Skidmore-level deference. From this position, I criticize the theories of constitutional interpretation offered by Raoul Berger, Jed Rubenfeld, and Richard Fallon, and apply the theory to whether the Fourteenth Amendment forbids racial segregation in public schools.

Keywords: originalism, constitutional interpretation, philosophy of language, Frege, Mill, Carnap, sense-reference distinction, intension-extension distinction, connotation-denotation distinction, Brown v. Board of Education, Jed Rubenfeld, Richard Fallon, Raoul Berger, Michael McConnell

Suggested Citation

Green, Christopher R., Originalism and the Sense-Reference Distinction. St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 50, p. 555, 2006, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=798466

Christopher R. Green (Contact Author)

University of Mississippi - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 1848
University, MS 38677
United States

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