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A Debt Against the Living
An Introduction to Originalism

$16.00 USD

  • Author: Ilan Wurman, Stanford Constitutional Law Center
  • Date Published: July 2017
  • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • format: Adobe eBook Reader
  • isbn: 9781108330985

$ 16.00 USD
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About the Authors
  • Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that the earth belongs to the living. His letter to James Madison is often quoted for the proposition that we should not be bound to the 'dead hand of the past', suggesting that the Constitution should instead be interpreted as a living, breathing document. Less well-known is Madison's response, in which he said the improvements made by the dead - including the US Constitution - form a debt against the living, who benefit from them. In this illuminating book, Ilan Wurman introduces Madison's concept of originalism to a new generation and shows how it has shaped the US Supreme Court in ways that are expected to continue following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the theory's leading proponents. It should be read by anyone seeking a better understanding of originalism and its ongoing influence on the constitutional jurisprudence of the Supreme Court.

    • Summarizes the history of originalism and the debates over its key elements but in a single narrative voice
    • Although the book is introductory in nature, it also makes its own judgments about what are the best current arguments for originalism, making the presentation nuanced and modest
    • The book's argument is rigorous but its style and tone is non-academic
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Ilan Wurman's fine book explores a classic question about constitutions, especially written constitutions, and most especially ours: Why should people in later generations feel bound by rules put in place by people in earlier generations? Wurman has provided a careful, detailed, and properly nuanced argument for James Madison's suggestion that the constitutional order gives rise to a kind of 'debt' that the living have to the dead - an argument that illuminates many current questions in constitutional law.' Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University, New Jersey

    'This is a wonderful book, and a major contribution to the academic and popular discourses on originalism.' Randy E. Barnett, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory and Director, Center for the Constitution, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC and author of Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People

    'Ilan Wurman's book is more than an excellent introduction to constitutional originalism. It is also an argument for the importance of an enduring constitution - a work of popular sovereignty that protects rights, enables democracy, and bestows its benefits on future generations.' Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Yale Law School, and author of Living Originalism

    'The confirmation hearing of Justice Neil Gorsuch brought the debate over an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation before the public like never before. Ilan Wurman's timely book provides the lay reader with a clear and lucid explanation of what originalism means, and a thoughtful and inspiring defense of why the Constitution remains worthy of our allegiance today.' Ralph A. Rossum, Salvatori Professor of American Constitutionalism, Claremont McKenna College, California, and author of Antonin Scalia's Jurisprudence and Understanding Clarence Thomas

    'Originalism is one of the most important theories of constitutional interpretation, and yet it is often misunderstood. Ilan Wurman's explanation and defense of originalism is therefore important and timely. It is also sophisticated, accessible, and fun to read. This book should be given to every law student.' William Baude, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School

    'If a written constitution is to constitute - if it is to give a durable, predictable form to government institutions and procedures - it must be consistently construed with fidelity to its words. Ilan Wurman's argument, as trenchant as it is timely, demonstrates that such originalism is, although demanding, indispensable.' George F. Will, Newspaper columnist and political commentator

    'Constitutional theory matters. We disagree about what our constitutional rights and powers are in large measure because we disagree about general and abstract questions of constitutional interpretation. In clear and accessible prose, Ilan Wurman defends an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation on the arresting ground that only by enforcing the written Constitution as it was originally understood by those who wrote and ratified it can living Americans discharge a debt that we owe to the Founding. Wurman's book is a lucid introduction to theoretical debates of great practical importance.' Mitchell Berman, Leon Meltzer Professor of Law, and Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2017
    • format: Adobe eBook Reader
    • isbn: 9781108330985
    • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Preliminaries and Language:
    1. The origins of originalism
    2. The meaning of meaning
    Part II. The Original Constitution:
    3. Constitutional legitimacy
    4. The founders on founding
    5. Interpreting the constitution
    Part III. Objections and Recapitulation:
    6. Lawyers as historians
    7. Brown v. board and originalism
    8. A coda on nonoriginalisms

  • Author

    Ilan Wurman, Stanford Constitutional Law Center
    Ilan Wurman is an attorney in Washington, DC, and a nonresident fellow at the Stanford Constitutional Law Center. He was formerly deputy general counsel on Senator Rand Paul's US presidential campaign, associate counsel on Senator Tom Cotton's campaign for US Senate, and a law clerk to the honorable Jerry E. Smith of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous law reviews, including the Stanford Law Review and the Texas Law Review, as well as in national journals, including National Affairs, The Weekly Standard, and City Journal. He graduated from Stanford Law School, and from Claremont McKenna College with degrees in Government and Physics.

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