The Constitution Doesn't Mean What You Think

The Constitution Doesn't Mean What You Think
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

In Neil Gorsuch's recent confirmation hearings, the Supreme Court nominee's past legal work and judicial opinions weren't the only subjects under discussion. Senators also wanted to hear his views on “originalism” — an influential legal approach that, at least by the standard media definition, directs judges to read the Constitution the way that it would have been read when James Madison and the other framers were drafting it.

If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill the seat of Antonin Scalia, a conservative jurist often associated with originalism, and many commentators have applied the term “originalist” to Gorsuch himself. The nominee has bobbed and weaved around the issue. In Senate hearings, when Republican Lindsey Graham asked him if he was an originalist, Gorsuch said, “I'm happy to be called that.” Quizzed by Democrat Amy Klobuchar about whether the use of pronouns “he” and “his” in the Constitution meant that a woman couldn't be president, Gorsuch replied, “I'm not looking to take us back to quill pens and horse and buggy.” Briefly Gorsuch suddenly sounded like something rather out of fashion among certain conservatives: a judge recognizing the challenge of interpreting a document 230 years old.

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