The Corner

Joseph Ellis and Originalism

Ed Whelan and Matthew Franck make sport of an op-ed that ought to embarrass both Joseph Ellis and the Washington Post. I’ll just add one more point: Thomas Jefferson wrote, in reference to constitutions, that we should not “ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did beyond amendment.” Does Ellis provide, or have, any evidence at all that what he meant was that judges should amend the constitutions they are interpreting? (Let alone that Jefferson “would vote against” John Roberts.) In general, given the relative lack of specific policies in the Constitution as originally understood, it is the originalism Ellis is attacking that makes it possible for each generation to devise its own policies–unencumbered by the detailed prescriptions of previous generations or of its own self-aggrandizing judges.

Update: John Rosenberg joins the pile-on.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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