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Barrett, An Originalist, Says Meaning Of Constitution 'Doesn't Change Over Time'

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks on the second day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks on the second day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

In the very first question put to her in Day 2 of her Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Judge Amy Coney Barrett was asked to define, "in English," the meaning of the legal concept of originalism.

It was a bit of a softball coming from Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Barrett had no trouble knocking it out of the park.

"In English that means that I interpret the Constitution as a law," she said, "and that I interpret its text as text, and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn't change over time and it's not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it."

If this were a ball game, the conservative fans in the bleachers would have been on their feet, cheering.

It is the essence of what Barrett's mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, believed.

Progressives, on the other hand, tend to view the Constitution as a living document that should be interpreted not necessarily as its drafters saw things in 1787 but in the current context of the times.

Barrett further defined textualism, or the way she would interpret laws, "similarly to what I just said about originalism. For textualism," she said, "the judge approaches the text as it was written, with the meaning it had at the time and doesn't infuse her own meaning into it."

She repeated her assertion, however, that while Scalia was her mentor, if she were confirmed, "You would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett."

She noted that originalists don't always agree, pointing out that Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, another originalist on the high court, had their differences.

"It's not a mechanical exercise," she said.

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