Originalism Is a Fancy Word for Bigotry.

by Pitt Griffin on July 3, 2015 · 0 comments

in Constitution, Religion

“Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think” ― Thomas A. Edison

Justice Antonin Scalia is a fan of ‘constitutional originalism’. He is qualified – in his own estimation – to divine, as a modern day haruspex, what the framers of the Constitution meant. He harrumphs the liberal, hippy-dippy, free-love approach to ‘living’ constitutional interpretation.

To Scalia, the Constitution is an ossified, immutable, once alive now petrified, code of law – which must only be considered in its application as to honor the intentions of those harmonious souls that birthed this ideal document.

It’s a load of bollocks.

The whole thing is a fudge. The Founding Fathers got enough in there to actually kick-start the country and agreed that somebody else could worry about the details.

Can Scalia really believe that the Framers thought exactly as he? That’s ludicrous. They didn’t even think as each other. Is it credible to believe a poll of delegates leaving Independence Hall would reveal unanimity of opinion as to the meaning of what they had just voted on?

The language of the Constitution itself shows a dichotomy. The qualifications for President are both precise – he must be 35 for instance. And vague – he must be a ‘natural born’ citizen. To this day, we haven’t established if that includes the foreign-born child of American parents.

The GOP has taken both sides in the debate – depending on the party of the candidate in question.

One power that the Constitution enumerates for Congress is the power. “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”.

What did they mean by commerce? You might think you know. But smart people with all sorts of education have been debating it ever since. Then throw in ‘cruel and unusual’. And ‘domestic tranquility’.

Seems that they agreed on some really specific things and left a hell of a lot to be fought over later. After all, they were only human and it was wicked hot in Philadelphia in 1787. At some point, they decided that enough was enough. That perfection was the enemy of done. And they went home.

And then there is the Bible.

Evangelicals claim that it is the inerrant word of God. That it is his literal word, dictated to some infallible human scribes. And is consequently perfect in every word and punctuation mark.

And that illuminates the first problem. The earliest Bibles had little if any punctuation. What punctuation was slowly introduced was a guide to orators reading the Bible aloud. They weren’t to frame meaning.

And if you don’t think that punctuation makes a difference to meaning, consider the following two examples.

“Let’s eat, Grandma.” and “Let’s eat Grandma.”

“Woman: without her, man is nothing.” and “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Reasonable people can disagree on the shades of meaning in the Constitution. And that’s a document written in nominally the same language we use. Although a dustier version of it. Consider that constitutional English is closer to Shakespearean English, than it is to ours.

Then consider that the Bible is eight times older and originally written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic,

So why be an ‘originalist’? Because it makes bigotry an easier burden. You can excuse your hatefulness by pointing to the ancient authority and saying: “What I think is unimportant, it’s right there in the Good Book. My hands are tied”.

Genius. You don’t have to think, or reason, or explain yourself. You can dispose of empathy. You are absolved of all incivility and prejudice. “It’s not my desire. It’s theirs. I’m just bound by it.” Why? Because it’s God – or tradition – or both.

It’s a bigot’s wet dream.

Reason

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: