Balkin Responds to Whelan:

The discussion between the folks at NRO and Jack Balkin over the latter's variant of original meaning constitutional interpretation continues. In response to Ed Whelan's series of posts I noted here (and part four here), Jack Balkin takes to his own defense here. Balkin concludes:

my point-- which I have made repeatedly in my articles-- has been that originalism does not and cannot constrain judges all by itself. Originalism is a theory of fidelity in interpretation, not a theory of judicial review, and it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all method for ensuring judicial constraint. It is the bedrock or framework on which judicial practice should build. Judicial practice means starting with text and principle but not ending with it. Judges should consult all of the standard modalities of legal argument to flesh out and implement original meaning. These modalities include enactment history, expected applications, structural arguments, precedents (both judicial and non judicial), and the opinions and views of previous generations about the best interpretation of the constitutional text. In my view originalism is a framework that rules some interpretations out of bounds, but does not do most of the work of deciding specific cases. It leaves a great deal to be filled in by judges doing what judges normally do-- reasoning from the traditional modalities of legal argument. In addition, as I describe in my article, there are structural features-- like the appointments process and the fact that the Supreme Court is a multimember body-- that keep decisions within the mainstream in the long run.

Ed's version of originalism, by contrast, tries to do too much. That's why his method produces all the problems I have mentioned. My fear is that if Ed's method is the right one, then nobody who serves on the federal bench-- Justices Thomas and Scalia included-- can be a consistent originalist today, in which case it is very difficult to know what the debate is all about. By contrast, I am trying to give an account of originalism that is both faithful to the Constitution and that not only judges, but also ordinary citizens, can use.