Originalist Theory and Precedent: A Public Meaning Approach


Much ink has already been spilled on the relationship of constitutional originalism to precedent (or, more specifically, the doctrine of stare decisis). The debate includes contributions from Randy Barnett, Steven Calabresi, Kurt Lash, Gary Lawson, John McGinnis with Michael Rappaport, Michael Paulsen, and Lee Strang, not to mention Justice Antonin Scalia—all representing originalism in some form. Living constitutionalism has also been represented both implicitly and explicitly, with important contributions from Phillip Bobbitt, Ronald Dworkin, Michael Gerhardt, Randy Kozel, and David Strauss. Some writers are more difficult to classify; Akhil Amar comes to mind. And there are many other contributions to the debate. Opinions range from the view that precedent should invariably prevail over the original public meaning of the constitutional text to the polar opposite view, that precedent must give way to original meaning in almost every case. Here is the roadmap. Part I provides a brief introduction to contemporary originalism. Part II describes the problem of precedent for originalism, emphasizing that the nature of the problem depends in part on our understanding of precedent. Part III offers some reflections on the question as to the constitutional status of the doctrine of horizontal stare decisis in the United States Supreme Court

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