758 Originalism and Its Discontents

Originalism is a major school of constitutional interpretation and an important field of study. Legal discussions and public debates regularly feature originalist arguments or criticisms of originalism. To engage these arguments, lawyers and citizens need to weigh the merits of a diverse set of originalist theories. This course is designed to acquaint you with originalist and nonoriginalist arguments; enable you to assess their strengths; and give you an opportunity to sharpen your own views.

The course will be taught as a two-hour weekly seminar, focused on class discussion of the readings. Each student will choose weeks in which to submit short response papers, circulated to all participants via Sakai. Alternatively, students may pursue an independent research project related to originalism, submitting first and final drafts (~30 pp.) in compliance with the upper-level writing requirement. Students choosing this option must obtain the permission of the instructor prior to the close of the Drop/Add period.

Enrollment Prerequisite

(A) One prior course on American constitutional law, and (B) one prior upper-level course on constitutional law, legislation and statutory interpretation, federal courts, administrative law, or jurisprudence. This prerequisite may be satisfied by equivalent coursework or waived with permission of the instructor.

Course Areas of Practice
Evaluation Methods
Reflective Writing
Research paper, 25+ pages
Class participation
Degree Requirements
Course Type
Seminar
Learning Outcomes
Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law
2021
Spring 2021
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor Meeting Day/Times Room

758.01 3
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research paper, 25+ pages
  • Class participation
Stephen E. Sachs Tu 10:30 AM-12:20 PM

Originalism is a major school of constitutional interpretation and an important field of study. Legal discussions and public debates regularly feature originalist arguments or criticisms of originalism. To engage these arguments, lawyers and citizens need to weigh the merits of a diverse set of originalist theories. This course is designed to acquaint you with originalist and nonoriginalist arguments; enable you to assess their strengths; and give you an opportunity to sharpen your own views.

The course will be taught as a two-hour weekly seminar, focused on class discussion of the readings. Each student will choose weeks in which to submit short response papers, circulated to all participants via Sakai. Alternatively, students may pursue an independent research project related to originalism, submitting first and final drafts (~30 pp.) in compliance with the upper-level writing requirement. Students choosing this option must obtain the permission of the instructor prior to the close of the Drop/Add period.

Pre/Co-requisites

(A) One prior course on American constitutional law, and (B) one prior upper-level course on constitutional law, legislation and statutory interpretation, federal courts, administrative law, or jurisprudence. This prerequisite may be satisfied by equivalent coursework or waived with permission of the instructor.

Enrollment Restrictions
None
2020
Spring 2020
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor Meeting Day/Times Room

758.01 3
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research paper, 25+ pages
  • Class participation
Stephen E. Sachs Tu 10:30AM - 12:20PM 4172

Originalism is a major school of constitutional interpretation and a growing field of study. Both public discourse and legal practice commonly feature originalist arguments as well as criticisms of originalism. To engage these arguments, lawyers and citizens should be able to weigh the merits of a diverse set of originalist theories. This course is designed to acquaint you with a number of originalist and nonoriginalist arguments; enable you to judge for yourself the strengths and weaknesses of each; and give you an opportunity to sharpen your own views on the topic. It examines various originalist theories (original intentions, original meanings, original methods, and so on), different emphases in originalist argumentation over time (the “old” originalism vs. the “new”), and forms of argument used in support or opposition (conceptual, normative, positive). The course will be taught as a two-hour weekly seminar, focused on class discussion of the readings. Each student will choose weeks in which to submit a total of eight short papers (5-8 pp.) in response to the readings. These papers will be circulated to all participants via Sakai and will serve, together with my own comments at the start of each session, as a basis for class discussion. Alternatively, students may instead pursue independent research projects related to originalism, submitting first and final drafts (~30 pp.) in compliance with the upper-level writing requirement. Students choosing this option must do so prior to the close of the Drop/Add period.

Syllabus: PDF icon 758.01.Spring2020-syllabus.pdf

Pre/Co-requisites

Either (1) (A) one introductory course on American constitutional law, as well as (B) one upper-level course on constitutional law, legislation and statutory interpretation, federal courts, administrative law, or jurisprudence; or (2) equivalent coursework. (This prerequisite may be waived with permission of the instructor.)

Enrollment Restrictions
None
2019
Spring 2019
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor Meeting Day/Times Room

758.01 3
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research paper, 25+ pages
  • Class participation
Stephen E. Sachs Tu 10:30-12:20 PM 4046

Originalism is a major school of constitutional interpretation and a growing field of study. Both public discourse and legal practice commonly feature originalist arguments as well as criticisms of originalism. To engage these arguments, lawyers and citizens should be able to weigh the merits of a diverse set of originalist theories. This course is designed to acquaint you with a number of originalist and nonoriginalist arguments; enable you to judge for yourself the strengths and weaknesses of each; and give you an opportunity to sharpen your own views on the topic. It examines various originalist theories (original intentions, original meanings, original methods, and so on), different emphases in originalist argumentation over time (the “old” originalism vs. the “new”), and forms of argument used in support or opposition (conceptual, normative, positive). The course will be taught as a two-hour weekly seminar, focused on class discussion of the readings. Each student will choose weeks in which to submit a total of eight short papers (5-8 pp.) in response to the readings. These papers will be circulated to all participants via Sakai and will serve, together with my own comments at the start of each session, as a basis for class discussion. Alternatively, students may instead pursue independent research projects related to originalism, submitting first and final drafts (~30 pp.) in compliance with the upper-level writing requirement. Students choosing this option must do so prior to the close of the Drop/Add period.

Pre/Co-requisites

Either (1) (A) one introductory course on American constitutional law, as well as (B) one upper-level course on constitutional law, legislation and statutory interpretation, federal courts, administrative law, or jurisprudence; or (2) equivalent coursework. (This prerequisite may be waived with permission of the instructor.)

Enrollment Restrictions
None
2018
Spring 2018
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor Meeting Day/Times Room

758.01 3
  • Research paper, 25+ pages
  • Reflective Writing
  • Class participation
Stephen E. Sachs W 10:30-12:20 PM 4046

Originalism is a major school of constitutional interpretation and a growing field of study. Both public discourse and legal practice commonly feature originalist arguments as well as criticisms of originalism. To engage these arguments, lawyers and citizens should be able to weigh the merits of a diverse set of originalist theories. This course is designed to acquaint you with a number of originalist and nonoriginalist arguments; enable you to judge for yourself the strengths and weaknesses of each; and give you an opportunity to sharpen your own views on the topic. It examines various originalist theories (original intentions, original meanings, original methods, and so on), different emphases in originalist argumentation over time (the “old” originalism vs. the “new”), and forms of argument used in support or opposition (conceptual, normative, positive). The course will be taught as a two-hour weekly seminar, focused on class discussion of the readings. Each student will choose weeks in which to submit a total of eight short papers (5-8 pp.) in response to the readings. These papers will be circulated to all participants via Sakai and will serve, together with my own comments at the start of each session, as a basis for class discussion. Alternatively, students may instead pursue independent research projects related to originalism, submitting first and final drafts (~30 pp.) in compliance with the upper-level writing requirement. Students choosing this option must do so prior to the close of the Drop/Add period.

Pre/Co-requisites

Either (1) (A) one introductory course on American constitutional law, as well as (B) one upper-level course on constitutional law, legislation and statutory interpretation, federal courts, administrative law, or jurisprudence; or (2) equivalent coursework. (This prerequisite may be waived with permission of the instructor.)

Enrollment Restrictions
None
2017
Spring 2017
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor Meeting Day/Times Room

758.01 3
  • Research paper, 25+ pages
  • Reflective Writing
  • Class participation
Stephen E. Sachs W 10:30-12:20 PM 4046

Originalism is a major school of constitutional interpretation and a growing field of study. Both public discourse and legal practice commonly feature originalist arguments as well as criticisms of originalism. To engage these arguments, lawyers and citizens should be able to weigh the merits of a diverse set of originalist theories. This course is designed to acquaint you with a number of originalist and nonoriginalist arguments; enable you to judge for yourself the strengths and weaknesses of each; and give you an opportunity to sharpen your own views on the topic. It examines various originalist theories (original intentions, original meanings, original methods, and so on), different emphases in originalist argumentation over time (the “old” originalism vs. the “new”), and forms of argument used in support or opposition (conceptual, normative, positive). The course will be taught as a two-hour weekly seminar, focused on class discussion of the readings. Each student will choose weeks in which to submit a total of eight short papers (5-8 pp.) in response to the readings. These papers will be circulated to all participants via Sakai and will serve, together with my own comments at the start of each session, as a basis for class discussion. Alternatively, students may instead pursue independent research projects related to originalism, submitting first and final drafts (~30 pp.) in compliance with the upper-level writing requirement. Students choosing this option must do so prior to the close of the Drop/Add period.

Pre/Co-requisites

Either (1) (A) one introductory course on American constitutional law, as well as (B) one upper-level course on constitutional law, legislation and statutory interpretation, federal courts, administrative law, or jurisprudence; or (2) equivalent coursework. (This prerequisite may be waived with permission of the instructor.)

Enrollment Restrictions
None

*Please note that this information is for planning purposes only, and should not be relied upon for the schedule for a given semester. Faculty leaves and sabbaticals, as well as other curriculum considerations, will sometimes affect when a course may be offered.