Ralph Rossum

Ralph Rossum is the Salvatori Professor of Political Philosophy & American Constitutionalism at Claremont McKenna College. He is the author of Understanding Clarence Thomas: The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Restoration (University Press of Kansas, 2014).

Is Justice Alito Drifting from His Judicial Minimalism Moorings?

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has been closely associated with an approach to constitutional interpretation commonly referred to as judicial minimalism, in which a justice will decide a case on the narrowest basis possible. As he put it in his majority opinion in NASA v. Nelson (2011), the Court should decide only the narrowest question “before us and leave broader issues for another day.” However, his concurrence in the judgment recently in Bond v. United States (2014) raises an interesting question: Is he beginning to waver from his commitment of judicial minimalism?

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Thomas’s Full Throated Originalism: Ralph Rossum Responds

I am grateful for the thoughtful commentaries and kind words that Keith Whittington, Lee J. Strang, and Adam White have provided on my essay on Clarence Thomas’s jurisprudence of constitutional restoration. Since all three commentaries address the low value that Thomas, as an originalist, places on stare decisis, I will begin there. Antonin Scalia, the Court’s other originalist, is also willing to reject Supreme Court precedents that depart from the constitutional text or the traditional understanding of that text, but, as he once confessed to being a “fainthearted originalist,” he has also confessed to being fainthearted when it comes to overruling…

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Sowing the Seeds of an Originalist Future

Not too long ago, I found myself discussing the U.S. Supreme Court with an acquaintance who does not particularly follow politics. During the conversation, I mentioned the name of Justice Clarence Thomas, which provoked the question, “He’s the one who doesn’t do anything, right?” I suppose there are worse ways that Justice Thomas could be remembered,…

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The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Restoration Is Originalism, but Not All Conceptions of Originalism

Dr. Ralph Rossum’s most recent book, Understanding Clarence Thomas: The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Restoration, performs the valuable service of cataloguing and synthesizing the jurisprudential work of one of America’s great living jurists. Rossum’s book joins other sympathetic—though not hagiographic—accounts of Justice Thomas’ work, most importantly Professor Scott Douglas Gerber’s First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence…

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“Just, Wise, and Constitutional”: Justice Thomas’s Legacy in Law and Politics

Ralph Rossum has followed his indispensible volume on Justice Scalia with an equally indispensible analysis of Justice Clarence Thomas’s life and work. The two seem destined to be paired forever. Because they share so much in common, each is the other’s best foil. Professor Rossum draws such contrasts expertly, as have Randy Barnett and Lee Strang,…

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Thomas’s Full-Throated Originalism: Ralph Rossum Responds

I am grateful for the thoughtful commentaries and kind words that Keith Whittington, Lee J. Strang, and Adam White have provided on my essay on Clarence Thomas’s jurisprudence of constitutional restoration. Since all three commentaries address the low value that Thomas, as an originalist, places on stare decisis, I will begin there.

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Understanding Clarence Thomas: The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Restoration

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

When, on July 1, 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to serve as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, predicting that he would be “a great Justice,” calling him “the best person for this position,” and denying that Thomas’s race had entered into his nomination, many Americans were skeptical. They doubted Bush’s claims, as they doubted his nominee. Among those doubting Thomas were individuals from the civil rights community, convinced that he would abandon the life-long campaign for racial justice undertaken by Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice, whose seat he was to fill. Other…

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Responses

Sowing the Seeds of an Originalist Future

Not too long ago, I found myself discussing the U.S. Supreme Court with an acquaintance who does not particularly follow politics. During the conversation, I mentioned the name of Justice Clarence Thomas, which provoked the question, “He’s the one who doesn’t do anything, right?” I suppose there are worse ways that Justice Thomas could be remembered,…

Read More

The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Restoration Is Originalism, but Not All Conceptions of Originalism

Dr. Ralph Rossum’s most recent book, Understanding Clarence Thomas: The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Restoration, performs the valuable service of cataloguing and synthesizing the jurisprudential work of one of America’s great living jurists. Rossum’s book joins other sympathetic—though not hagiographic—accounts of Justice Thomas’ work, most importantly Professor Scott Douglas Gerber’s First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence…

Read More

“Just, Wise, and Constitutional”: Justice Thomas’s Legacy in Law and Politics

Ralph Rossum has followed his indispensible volume on Justice Scalia with an equally indispensible analysis of Justice Clarence Thomas’s life and work. The two seem destined to be paired forever. Because they share so much in common, each is the other’s best foil. Professor Rossum draws such contrasts expertly, as have Randy Barnett and Lee Strang,…

Read More

Thomas’s Full Throated Originalism: Ralph Rossum Responds

I am grateful for the thoughtful commentaries and kind words that Keith Whittington, Lee J. Strang, and Adam White have provided on my essay on Clarence Thomas’s jurisprudence of constitutional restoration. Since all three commentaries address the low value that Thomas, as an originalist, places on stare decisis, I will begin there. Antonin Scalia, the Court’s…

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Toobin’s Disgrace

clarence-thomasJeffrey Toobin’s recent article in The New Yorker, “Clarence Thomas’s Disgraceful Silence,” is itself disgraceful. Toobin noted that, as of February 22, eight years have passed since Justice Thomas last asked a question during a Supreme Court oral argument. Toobin finds Thomas’s silence “bizarre” and “downright embarrassing, for himself and for the institution he represents.”

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Supermajoritarian Originalism

John O. McGinnis and Michael B. Rappaport’s essay, “Originalism and the Good Constitution,” is a précis of their book with the same title, published on October 7 of this year by Harvard University Press.[1] What follows is a commentary on this essay, not the book. McGinnis and Rappaport defend what they call “original methods originalism,” because it connects directly to the concept of a good constitution and because its advances the welfare of present day citizens. It does so, they argue, by generating constitutional interpretations that have better consequences than non-originalist theories. We typically think that non-originalists such as Stephen Breyer…

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Originalism: A Necessary Tool But Not a Constitutional Panacea

In their short contribution to this issue, “Originalism and the Good Constitution” John McGinnis and Michael Rappaport link together two conceptions that I think should be kept forever separate. As their provocative title suggests, they claim that the path to a good Constitution, capital C, lies through originalism. The central point in their argument is…

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Original Methods Originalism Best Defends the Classical Liberal Constitution: A Response to Epstein

We are grateful to Richard Epstein for taking the time to reply, but are disappointed that he attributes to us positions we do not hold, indeed ones that are the reverse of our positions. We will first clear up some mistaken attributions and then consider in a spirit of engagement what might be a real…

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The Good Constitution and The Sixteenth and Seventeeth Amendments: A Reply to Rossum

We are very grateful to Ralph Rossum for his generous response. In particular, he is very kind to note that our “arguments are interesting, powerful, intelligent, and . . . original.” We also appreciate his emphasis on the power of the syllogistic nature of our argument for originalism. Rossum’s principal concerns center on the adequacy of…

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The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Justice Clarence Thomas

This discussion with Professor Ralph Rossum of Claremont McKenna College explores the jurisprudence of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  Rossum posits that Justice Thomas practices an "original general meaning" approach that seeks concord among the three major strands of originalist theory. Justice Thomas incorporates both the framers' original intent and that of the states' constitutional ratifying conventions, as well as Justice Antonin Scalia's public meaning methodology. Thus Justice Thomas, rather than standing underneath the stature of Justice Scalia, among others, may have a far richer constitutional hermeneutic than many of his originalist brethren. Rossum also discusses Justice Thomas' appeals to…

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