Teaching Originalism


This spring I am fortunate to have the opportunity to teach a class at Harvard Law School on constitutional originalism. The syllabus, for those who might be interested, can be found here. It includes a fairly lengthy list of suggested readings for those who might be so inclined to explore.

Although originalism is something that I write about (e.g., this, this, and this), it is not something that I could normally justify exploring extensively in the classroom. We'll see how it goes. There has been a tremendous outpouring of work on this topic over the past several years (some of it even by people not named Larry Solum), so it is certainly of scholarly interest. Given the conservative legal movement's continued affection for originalism, and the Republican Party's ability to sometimes win elections and prioritize judicial nominations, originalism has some practical significance for those who want to work on constitutional issues in contemporary American courts. Thanks, Justice Gorsuch!

It would make sense for law schools to incorporate originalism into the curriculum, and there are even some originalists around who can teach such things. The Georgetown Center for the Constitution has done an impressive job of putting together a summer boot camp on originalism for law students from across the country.

My syllabus emphasizes the theoretical debates, though there is now a sophisticated literature doing the hard work of applying originalist theory to constitutional problems as well as a growing literature on the history and politics of originalism (both get some attention for those who might be interested at the end of my syllabus). Judicial opinions don't make the cut, however. They get enough attention as it is.