How the doctrine of “originalism” is reshaping US democracy

How the doctrine of “originalism” is reshaping US democracy

The rushed appointment of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court may be Donald Trump’s most enduring legacy.

Now that we know the era of Trump is coming to a close, it may be useful to ponder one of his “legacies”: the rebalancing of the Supreme Court of the United States in favour of a conservative majority with the confirmed appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, the sixth conservative, and sixth Catholic, on the Court. Many liberal opponents fear Barrett’s appointment will undo decades of progressive social and political legislation, such as the right to choose, enshrined in the 1973 ruling Roe v Wade, or the more recent prohibition of employment discrimination against gay and transgender workers.

In the course of the Senate Committee’s deliberations last month, Barrett confirmed something that was well enough known about her approach to the constitution, even if what that approach amounts to is poorly understood: following her mentor, the now deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom Barrett clerked early on in her career, she holds to the doctrine of “originalism”.

Explaining what this consists in, she remarked:

So in English, that means that I interpret the constitution as a law, that I interpret its text as text and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn’t change over time. And it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it.