Constitutional Intepretation

Textual Meaning, Original Intent, and Judicial Review

Constitutional Interpretation: Textual Meaning, Original Intent, and Judicial Review (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999) Buy It!

University Press of Kansas description

This book reconsiders the implications of the fundamental legal commitment to faithfully interpret our written Constitution. Making use of arguments drawn from American history, political philosophy, and literary theory, the book examines what it means to interpret a written constitution and how the courts should go about that task. The book concludes that when interpreting the Constitution, the judiciary should adhere to the discoverable intentions of the Founders. In pursuing this argument, the book sympathetically examines the most sophisticated critiques of originalism based on postmodern, hermeneutic, and literary theory, as well as the most common legal arguments against originalists. The book demonstrates how originalist methods can be reconciled with an appropriate understanding of legal interpretation and why originalism has much to teach all constitutional theorists. The book also shows how originalism helps realize the democratic promise of the Constitution without relying on assumptions of judicial restraint. Carefully examining both the possibilities and the limitations of constitutional interpretation and judicial review, the book shows not only what the judiciary ought to do but also what the limits of appropriate judicial review are and how judicial review fits into a larger system of constitutional government.


"One of the best and most sophisticated arguments for originalism ever presented . . . . required reading for anyone seriously interested in the originalism/nonoriginalism debate." -- Gregory Bassham, Review of Politics

"There is so much that is good in this informative, scholarly, well-argued, clearly written, and exciting book that it is difficult to single out any one particular aspect above others." -- Gerard Casey, Review of Metaphysics

"[A]n important book that builds on the wealth of earlier work in constitutional interpretation to resolve a number of difficulties in constitutional theory." -- Sue Davis, Law and Politics Book Review

"[T]he most systematic account to date of originalism as a method of applying the Constitution, clarifying its meaning, and seeking to justify it normatively." -- John Harrison, Constitutional Political Economy

"[F]ar more theoretically and politically sophisticated than the standard originalist fare." -- Susan Burgess, Law and Society Review

"An exceptional scholarly work. . . . All persons interested in constitutionalism will profit from a study of this study. Scholars will be particularly pleased that Constitutional Interpretation is a rare work of constitutional theory that on every page sincerely tries to persuade the reader." -- Mark A. Graber, Ethics

"Whittington has produced a book that demands the serious attention of scholars in constitutional law and American government." -- Judith A. Baer, American Political Science Review

"Whittington elaborates a plausible, careful defense of originalism, seeking a nonpolitical vantage point for originalism available to liberals and conservatives alike. . . . Even those rejecting originalism . . . will find this book suggestive and enlightening." -- Richard B. Bernstein, Journal of the Early Republic


"A remarkable achievement. . . . One of the most sophisticated and powerful defenses of original jurisprudence I have read.” —Rogers M. Smith, author of Civic Ideals and Liberalism and American Constitutional Law

“A timely, important, meticulously researched, and well-written book that makes a valuable contribution to constitutional theory and is the best work on constitutional interpretation that I have read. It deserves attention from a wide audience.” —Robert Lowry Clinton, author of God and Man in the Law

“A masterful job. I have never seen a book that better melds political theory, constitutional theory, and the Founding period. Whittington’s work is so well argued and detailed that all serious scholars (including originalists and non-originalists) will have to pay attention to it. This will be an award winner.”  -- Ronald Kahn, author of The Supreme Court and Constitutional Theory, 1953–1993