Keith E. Whittington

Professor of Politics

Princeton University


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Constitutional Interpretation: Textual Meaning, Original Intent, and Judicial Review



Constitutional Interpretation 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, he examines what it means to interpret a written constitution and how the courts should go about that task. He concludes that when interpreting the Constitution, the judiciary should adhere to the discoverable intentions of the Founders.

Other originalists have also asserted that their approach is required by the Constitution but have neither defended that claim nor effectively responded to critics of their assumptions or their method. This 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. Whittington explores these criticisms, their potential threat to originalism, and how originalist theory might be reconstructed to address their concerns. In a nondogmatic and readily understandable way, he explains how originalist methods can be reconciled with an appropriate understanding of legal interpretation and why originalism has much to teach all constitutional theorists. He also shows how originalism helps realize the democratic promise of the Constitution without relying on assumptions of judicial restraint.

This book carefully examines both the possibilities and the limitations of constitutional interpretation and judicial review. It shows us not only what the judiciary ought to do, but what the limits of appropriate judicial review are and how judicial review fits into a larger system of constitutional government. With its detailed and wide-ranging explorations in history, philosophy, and law, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in how the Constitution ought to be interpreted and what it means to live under a constitutional government.

Praise for Constitutional Interpretation:

"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 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


"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

Published Reviews of Constitutional Interpretation:

Political Theory (April 2005)

Ethics (April 2001)

Review of Politics (Fall 2000)

The Review of Metaphysics (September 2000)

The Weekly Standard (March 6, 2000)

Times Literary Supplement (August 31, 2001)

Humane Studies Review (Fall 2000)

Constitutional Political Economy

Modern Age (2001)

Perspectives on Political Science (Fall 2000)

Law and Politics Book Review

Journal of the Early Republic (Spring 2001)

Political Studies (March 2001)

American Political Science Review (March 2001)

Law and Society Review (2001)

Library Journal (September 15, 1999)

Choice (January 2000)

In Re: (March 2000)

Court Review (Fall 1999)



University Press of Kansas

September 1999 (September 2001) (Chinese translation 2005)

320 pages, cloth, paper

ISBN 0-7006-0969-5 (cl), 0-7006-1141-X (pb)

$39.95, $17.95

Table of Contents

University Press of Kansas description



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