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Acton Institute Events Podcast

Overview

On June 17th, 1997, United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the keynote address at the Acton Institute's 7th Annual Anniversary dinner. His remarks were entitled "On Interpreting the Constitution."

Justice Scalia was arguably the Supreme Court’s most famous originalist in interpreting the Constitution. Scalia was equally known for using a textualist approach to statutory interpretation of the law.

Back when he gave this address, originalism and textualism were essentially synonymous. Today however, there is a clear distinction between the two. Originalism is the interpretation of the Constitution as it would have been understood when it was first adopted. Textualism is the idea that what the text says, is simply the law.

According to Scalia, the constitution is static – it cannot change and should not be open to discussion surrounding historical or present inquiries.

This approach directly opposes the idea that the Constitution is a living document which should adapt to our ever changing culture and societal norms. Scalia’s argument is that instead of examining the intentions of the drafters, we should look to the common understanding of the text at the time it was written.

Scalia believed that the law does not allow room for hearsay or subjective interpretations, and is often quoted as saying, “The text is the law, and it is the text that must be observed.”

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