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05/06/2018

Corpus Linguistics: "It's Like Westlaw for Originalism"
Michael Ramsey

Via Paul Caron at TaxProf Blog, at Law.com: Big Data Meets the Constitution in New Originalism Project.  It begins:

Five Georgia appellate judges visited a Georgia State University College of Law seminar recently to evaluate an innovative new big-data tool for ascertaining the original meaning of oft-contested words in the U.S. Constitution and other historic legal texts.

The rest is only available to subscribers but Dean Caron has some excerpts at his blog, including this: 

The students are the first to try out a searchable new database, the Corpus of Founding Era English (COFEA), made up of more than 95,000 documents from the era that Brigham Young University Law School is developing. The COFEA documents encompass newspapers, speeches, novels, diaries and personal correspondence that were produced from 1760 to 1799 during the colonial independence movement and subsequent ratification debates over the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

One criticism of originalism, noted the seminar’s professor, Clark Cunningham, is that it’s impossible to know what people really meant with certain terms back then. “Now it’s easier to,” he said.

“This is revolutionary,” said Georgia Appeals Court Chief Judge Stephen Dillard, himself an originalist. “It’s like Westlaw for originalism.” ...

RELATED: In a guest post here last Friday, James Heilpern shows how it can work in practice.