Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty

Randy E. Barnett

The U.S. Constitution found in school textbooks and under glass in Washington is not the one enforced today by the Supreme Court. In Restoring the Lost Constitution, Randy Barnett argues that since the nation’s founding, but especially since the 1930s, the courts have been cutting holes in the original Constitution and its amendments to eliminate the parts that protect liberty from the power of government. From the Commerce Clause, to the Necessary and Proper Clause, to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, to the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court has rendered each of these provisions toothless. In the process, the written Constitution has been lost. Barnett establishes the original meaning of these lost clauses and offers a practical way to restore them to their central role in constraining government: adopting a “presumption of liberty” to give the benefit of the doubt to citizens when laws restrict their rightful exercises of liberty. He also provides a new, realistic and philosophically rigorous theory of constitutional legitimacy that justifies both interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning and, where that meaning is vague or open-ended, construing it so as to better protect the rights retained by the people. As clearly argued as it is insightful and provocative, Restoring the Lost Constitution forcefully disputes the conventional wisdom, posing a powerful challenge to which others must now respond. This updated edition features an afterword with further reflections on individual popular sovereignty, originalist interpretation, judicial engagement, and the gravitational force that original meaning has exerted on the Supreme Court in several recent cases.

The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment: Its Letter and Spirit

Randy E. Barnett and Evan D. Bernick

Adopted in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment profoundly changed the Constitution, giving the federal judiciary and Congress new powers to protect the fundamental rights of individuals from being violated by the states. Yet, according to Randy Barnett and Evan Bernick, the Supreme Court has long misunderstood or ignored the original meaning of the amendment’s key clauses, covering the privileges and immunities of citizenship, due process of law, and the equal protection of the laws. Barnett and Bernick contend that the Fourteenth Amendment was the culmination of decades of debates about the meaning of the antebellum Constitution. Antislavery advocates advanced arguments informed by natural rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the common law. They also utilized what is today called public-meaning originalism. Although their arguments lost in the courts, the Republican Party was formed to advance an antislavery political agenda, eventually bringing about abolition. Then, when abolition alone proved insufficient to thwart Southern repression and provide for civil equality, the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted. It went beyond abolition to enshrine in the Constitution the concept of Republican citizenship and granted Congress power to protect fundamental rights and ensure equality before the law. Finally, Congress used its powers to pass Reconstruction-era civil rights laws that tell us much about the original scope of the Amendment. With evenhanded attention to primary sources, The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment shows how the principles of the Declaration eventually came to modify the Constitution and proposes workable doctrines for implementing the key provisions of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A Debt Against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism

Ilan Wurman

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that the earth belongs to the living. His letter to James Madison is often quoted for the proposition that we should not be bound to the ‘dead hand of the past’, suggesting that the Constitution should instead be interpreted as a living, breathing document. Less well-known is Madison’s response, in which he said the improvements made by the dead – including the US Constitution – form a debt against the living, who benefit from them. In this illuminating book, Ilan Wurman introduces Madison’s concept of originalism to a new generation and shows how it has shaped the US Supreme Court in ways that are expected to continue following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the theory’s leading proponents. It should be read by anyone seeking a better understanding of originalism and its ongoing influence on the constitutional jurisprudence of the Supreme Court.

A Matter of Interpretation

Justice Antonin Scalia

We are all familiar with the image of the immensely clever judge who discerns the best rule of common law for the case at hand. According to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a judge like this can maneuver through earlier cases to achieve the desired aim—“distinguishing one prior case on his left, straight-arming another one on his right, high-stepping away from another precedent about to tackle him from the rear, until (bravo!) he reaches the goal—good law.” But is this common-law mindset, which is appropriate in its place, suitable also in statutory and constitutional interpretation? In a witty and trenchant essay, Justice Scalia answers this question with a resounding negative. In exploring the neglected art of statutory interpretation, Scalia urges that judges resist the temptation to use legislative intention and legislative history. In his view, it is incompatible with democratic government to allow the meaning of a statute to be determined by what the judges think the lawgivers meant rather than by what the legislature actually promulgated. Eschewing the judicial lawmaking that is the essence of common law, judges should interpret statutes and regulations by focusing on the text itself. Scalia then extends this principle to constitutional law. He proposes that we abandon the notion of an everchanging Constitution and pay attention to the Constitution’s original meaning. Although not subscribing to the “strict constructionism” that would prevent applying the Constitution to modern circumstances, Scalia emphatically rejects the idea that judges can properly “smuggle” in new rights or deny old rights by using the Due Process Clause, for instance. In fact, such judicial discretion might lead to the destruction of the Bill of Rights if a majority of the judges ever wished to reach that most undesirable of goals. This essay is followed by four commentaries by Professors Gordon Wood, Laurence Tribe, Mary Ann Glendon, and Ronald Dworkin, who engage Justice Scalia’s ideas about judicial interpretation from varying standpoints. In the spirit of debate, Justice Scalia responds to these critics.