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02/07/2012

Two Reports on USD's Originalism Conference
Mike Rappaport

As I previously noted, USD held its Third Annual Originalism Works in Progress Conference this past weekend.  The Conference, funded by the Hugh and Hazel Darling Foundation, was a big success.  Stanley Fish, writing on the New York Times webpage, says:

Thirty years ago, originalism was dismissed as an outmoded interpretive methodology and stigmatized as a conservative strategy for binding us to the dead hand of the past. Now originalism is on its way to becoming an orthodoxy as more and more scholars once skeptical of the faith declare themselves to be believers. As the number of adherents grows, so do disagreement about just what originalism is and how to apply it. Hence the annual conference.

Fish also notes the academic and collegial atmosphere of the conference.  "Instead [of heated debate on politics], participants argued (vigorously, but politely and with unfailing generosity) about where and with what methods inquiry into the questions should begin."

Ed Whelan, at NRO, also attended the conference:

I’m very pleased to report that the Originalism Works-in-Progress Conference that I took part in this past Friday and Saturday at the University of San Diego amply exceeded my hopeful expectations (so much so that I didn’t wonder why I wasn’t outdoors enjoying San Diego’s beautiful weather).

The conference attracted a diverse array of scholars from some twenty or so law schools (only some of whom are listed at the site linked above): various proponents of different versions of originalism, a number of critics of originalism, and others who may not necessarily have staked out a methodological position on originalism but who are interested in exploring historical evidence of the meaning of constitutional provisions. There were liberals and conservatives (in rather different proportions than in legal academia generally), and there were well-known senior scholars as well as rising young academics.

Thanks to both Stanley and Ed for their generous posts and for their significant contributions at the conference.

The full proceedings of the conference should be online in both video and audio format by the end of February.