Why Libertarians Should be Originalists

Richard Primus has argued that it would not make sense for a libertarian to be an originalist. But his arguments impose an unreasonably high standard for a libertarian’s choice of interpretive method, and reflect, like another recent post, a misunderstanding of originalism.

First, he says that the Constitution does not entrench libertarian principles as such.  True enough. Libertarianism is a philosophy of the twentieth century. The key provisions of the Constitution are from the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century. But for a libertarian  who wants to decide which constitutional interpretive philosophy should be instrumentally useful (to be clear that is not I), it should not matter that the Constitution does not perfectly capture libertarianism.  Instead, the question should be whether an originalist view would move constitutional law today toward  more libertarian results than plausible competing interpretive theories. And here the answer is yes.

First, the original Constitution sharply limited the scope of the federal government and constrained it through the separation of powers.

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The Myth of Rational Legislation

gavel

The ongoing debate between libertarian and more traditional constitutionalists is about something more fundamental than what standards of review to apply to which cases. What’s at stake in this disagreement is politics—its very survival, and in what form. Is this institution that is, or at least was, enlivened by argument among citizens to be replaced by a desiccated vision of rational claims adjudicated by courts?

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They’re Into Masochism

US Capitol dome detail

Among its myriad other mysteries, the 2016 election presents this Madisonian puzzle: Why are so many members of Congress genuflecting before presidential nominees whose platforms include emasculating them?

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Constitutionalism by Word Association: A Reply to Evan Bernick

The doors of the Supreme Court

At The Huffington Post, Evan Bernick has offered a thoughtful reply to my suggestion that judicial deference to Congress differs categorically from judicial deference to the administrative state, arguing instead that the real problem is deference simply: “Judicial deference of any kind sees judges elevating will over the reasoned judgment that judges who draw their power from Article III must exercise.”

This usefully identifies the core of the issue. If federal judges actually possessed all the power Bernick says Article III assigns them, there would be less constitutional basis for constraining their authority. If they do not, the issue is whether they can commandeer it.

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Complicating Greg Weiner’s Take on the Nomination Imbroglio

Greg Weiner argues, in a much-discussed Law and Liberty post, that “constitutional conflict is not a sign of constitutional crisis. It is, rather, a sign of constitutional health.”

However, if this is the case, why are Americans so quick to do exactly what Weiner argues is deeply problematic for our constitutional order: namely, elevate disputes between the branches to the level of crisis rather than seeing them as the generator of substantive arguments on behalf of institutional and partisan positions?

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American by Nature

Naturalization

A great deal of ink has been spilled of late on the question what, exactly, it means for someone to be a natural born citizen under the U.S. Constitution. As Senator Cruz was born in Canada, to a mother who was a citizen and father who was not a citizen, the question is on point. The Constitution states in Article II that “no Persons except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

What, exactly, does that mean?

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The Madisonian Mean

Protest. Public demonstration.

Donald Trump does not say things that are unpopular. Every time we see him speaking in front of an audience, that audience is clapping. He says things that anger elites and about which, often, events seem to confirm the seeds of his base’s opinions. It should therefore be unsurprising that the elite’s rejection and disdain inflame rather than calm the Trump phenomenon. The contemptuous response is not useful. The Madisonian one is.

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James Madison’s Trump Card

jimmy

The Trump phenomenon—whose latest instantiation is his outright lie about hordes of Jersey City Muslims cheering the collapse of the Twin Towers—is widely thought to be a test of other Republican candidates. It is more than that. With Trump still leading national polls—still?—it is becoming a test of the Madisonian thesis. 

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Dysfunction Is No Excuse for Misreading the Constitution

Can the U.S. House of Representatives elect a non-member to the Speakership? Disgusted by the dysfunction in Congress, some are suggesting this is constitutionally possible. Connor Ewing, in this space yesterday, asserted the only thing standing in the way is “over two centuries of legislative practice to the contrary.” (Editor’s note: Ewing’s latest, written in reply to Schaub and National Review’s Matthew Franck, is here.)

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