In this essay, based on the 2006 William Howard Taft lecture, the author critically evaluates Justice Antonin Scalia's famous and influential 1988 Taft Lecture, entitled Originalism: The Lesser Evil. In his lecture, Justice Scalia began the now-widely-accepted shift from basing constitutional interpretation on the intent of the framers to relying instead on the original public meaning of the text. At the same time, the essay explains how Justice Scalia allows himself three ways to escape originalist results that he finds to be objectionable: (1) when the text is insufficiently rule-like, (2) when precedent has deviated from original meaning and (3) (when the first two justifications are unavailing) just ignore originalism to avoid sufficiently objectionable results. While Justice Scalia describes his approach as faint-hearted originalism, the author contends that he is not really an originalist at all as evidenced by this lecture and also by his stances as a justice in several important cases. This leaves Justice Thomas as the only justice who seems at all bound by originalist conclusions with which he may disagree. The essay then provides a summary of why the courts ought to adhere to original public meaning originalism, why this form of originalism is preferable to the principal alternative—which the author calls the underlying principles approach—and why originalism, properly understood, does not lead to the types of grossly objectionable results that lead Justice Scalia to be faint of heart.
75 U. Cin. L. Rev. 7-24 (2006)
Scholarly Commons Citation
Barnett, Randy E., "Scalia's Infidelity: A Critique of "Faint-Hearted" Originalism" (2006). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 841.