What Does It Mean to Interpret the Constitution?
Donald L. Drakeman *88, Distinguished Research Professor, Program in Constitutional Studies, University of Notre Dame; Keith E. Whittington, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Princeton University
Moderated by Robert P. George, Director of the James Madison Program and McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
Registration for this inaugural Antonin Scalia Constitution Day Lecture is free, required, and available here.
Do Supreme Court justices really just call balls and strikes, or are the Court’s decisions merely politics by another name? When we read that judges are originalists or favor a living Constitution, it often seems to be just another way of saying that they are conservatives or progressives. Are these approaches to interpreting the Constitution simply different ways of using complex legal language to camouflage political preferences? Or does it actually mean something for the Court to interpret the Constitution?
From essentially the Roman era until now, the goal of interpretation remained basically unchanged. It was to apply the will of the lawmaker to the case at hand. There were arguments over how best to adapt old laws to new circumstances. But the constant refrain over many centuries was that discovering the lawmaker’s intentions was an essential foundation for either original or evolving interpretations. Donald L. Drakeman *88, Distinguished Research Professor in the Program in Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame, will discuss why it is both possible and important for today’s justices to continue this longstanding legal tradition, and to resist calls to decide constitutional cases based only on the will of a majority of the Court.