Profiling Originalism

Jamal Greene, Columbia Law School
Stephen Ansolabehere
Nathaniel Persily


Originalism is a subject of both legal and political discourse, invoked not just in law review scholarship but also in popular media and public discussion. This Essay presents the first empirical study of public attitudes about originalism. The study analyzes original and existing survey data in order to better understand the demographic characteristics, legal views, political orientation, and cultural profile of those who self-identify as originalists. We conclude that rule of law concerns, support for politically conservative issue positions, and a cultural orientation toward moral traditionalism and libertarianism are all significant predictors of an individual preference for originalism. Our analysis suggests that originalism has currency not only as a legal proposition about constitutional interpretation, but also as a political commodity and as a culturally expressive idiom.