The Philosophy That Makes Amy Coney Barrett So Dangerous, NYT, Erwin Chemerinsky, October 2020, Opinion Piece
If I did not know this man personally, I would have never looked to him for help and also advice from time to time. It was only through a friend I wrote with at the old Slate site, I had the chance to meet him. Professor Chemerinsky discusses the dangers of applying an originalism interpretation of the US Constitution. There is not much I can add to this and I would call this article a copy and paste at Angry Bear. It is a good read for nonlegal based readers.
In 1987, Robert Bork was denied confirmation to the Supreme Court because his originalist beliefs were deemed a serious threat to constitutional rights. Originalism is no less dangerous for those rights today, yet Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s repeated statements professing her belief in originalism have been met with little objection.
Originalists believe that the meaning of a constitutional provision is fixed when it was adopted and that it can change only by constitutional amendment. Under this view, the First Amendment means the same thing as when it was adopted in 1791 and the 14th Amendment means the same thing as when it was ratified in 1868.
But rights in the 21st century should not be determined by the understandings and views of centuries ago. This would lead to terrible results. The same Congress that voted to ratify the 14th Amendment, which assures equal protection of the laws, also voted to segregate the District of Columbia public schools. Following originalism would mean that Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided in declaring laws requiring segregation of schools unconstitutional.
In fact, under the original public meaning of the Constitution, it would be unconstitutional to elect a woman as president or vice president until the Constitution is amended. Article II refers to them with the pronoun “he,” and there is no doubt that original understanding was that only men could hold these offices.
Throughout American history, the Supreme Court has rejected originalism and protected countless rights that cannot possibly be justified under that theory. For example, the court has interpreted the word “liberty” in the Constitution to protect the right to marry, to procreate, to custody of one’s children, to keep the family together, to control the upbringing of one’s children, to purchase and use contraceptives, to obtain an abortion, to engage in private adult consensual same-sex sexual activity, and to refuse medical treatment.