For much of its history, the interpretation of the United States Constitution presupposed judges seeking the meaning of the text and the original intentions behind that text, a process that was deemed by Chief Justice John Marshall to be 'the most sacred rule of interpretation'. Since the end of the nineteenth century, a radically new understanding has developed in which the moral intuition of the judges is allowed to supplant the Constitution's original meaning as the foundation of interpretation. The Founders' Constitution of fixed and permanent meaning has been replaced by the idea of a 'living' or evolving constitution. Gary L. McDowell refutes this new understanding, recovering the theoretical grounds of the original Constitution as understood by those who framed and ratified it. It was, he argues, the intention of the Founders that the judiciary must be bound by the original meaning of the Constitution when interpreting it.
Gary L. McDowell is a Professor in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, where he holds the Tyler Haynes Interdisciplinary Chair of Leadership Studies, Political Science, and Law. He is the author or editor of ten books, including Equity and the Constitution: The Supreme Court, Equitable Relief and Public Policy; Curbing the Courts: The Constitution and the Limits of Judicial Power; Justice vs. Law: Courts and Politics in American Society (with Eugene W. Hickok, Jr.); and Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the 'Other' Federalists (edited with Colleen Sheehan). In addition to his teaching appointments, he has served as the Director of the Office of the Bicentennial of the Constitution at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Associate Director of Public Affairs at the United States Department of Justice and chief speechwriter to United States Attorney General Edwin Meese III, and Director of the Institute of United States Studies in the University of London.
Introduction: the politics of original intention; 1. The Constitution and the scholarly tradition: recovering the Founders' Constitution; 2. Nature and the language of law: Thomas Hobbes and the foundations of modern constitutionalism; 3. Language, law, and liberty: John Locke and the structures of modern constitutionalism; 4. The limits of natural law: modern constitutionalism and the science of interpretation; 5. The greatest improvement on political institutions: natural rights, written constitutions and the intention of the people; 6. Chains of the Constitution: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the political metaphysics of strict construction; 7. The most sacred rule of interpretation: John Marshall, originalism, and the limits of judicial power; 8. The same yesterday, to-day, and forever: Joseph Story and the permanence of constitutional meaning; Epilogue: the moral foundations of originalism.