Friday, May 13, 2011

American Studies Professor Saul Cornell on "New Originalist" interpretations of the Constitution

Fordham historian and American History Professor Saul Cornell has written a forceful and clear article in Dissent criticizing those from the Supreme Court on down who claim to know "the original meaning" of the Constitution. Cornell argues that "new originalist meaning ultimately has nothing to do with history: it is a modern ideology dressed up in historical clothing." This is perhaps his most biting passage:

In the wacky world of new originalism, dissent becomes assent, minorities become majorities, and the interpretive method of the Anti-Federalist losers supplants the methods of the Federalist winners. Such creative rewriting of the past makes for interesting alternate histories, but it is not a serious scholarly methodology for understanding the historical meaning of the Constitution. It is a legal scam.

Many American studies students have taken Professor Cornell's courses in early American history or constitutional history. Especially if you're heading off to law school after you graduate--as many of you are!--have a look at the article....and write a response here on the blog, too!