758.01 Originalism and Its Discontents

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.

Enrollment Prerequisite

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.)

Spring 2018

Course NumberCourse CreditsEvaluation MethodInstructorMeeting Day/TimesRoom
Research paper, 25+ pages
Reflective Writing
Class participation
Stephen E. Sachs
10:30-12:20 PM
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW.758.01.Sp18
Email list: LAW.758.01.Sp18@sakai.duke.edu
Degree Requirements
Course Areas of Practice