In the context of constitutional interpretation, originalism is the belief that the original intent of the constitutional authors, and/or the original meaning of the constitutional language, should determine how the Constitution is interpreted today. This is distinguished from modernism, which holds that the meaning of the Constitution can change over time as the legal and cultural context of the law changes.
Originalism tends to favor a narrower definition of civil liberties than modernism does, so it generally permits more authoritarian laws. An originalist interpretation of the First Amendment
, for example, would favor how the amendment might be interpreted in its original 1789 context--in a country where pornography was generally banned and government funding of religion commonplace--rather than on what the words themselves mean today.
Also Known As: Sometimes confused with strict constructionism, which is not exactly the same thing (strict constructionists favor a narrow verbal interpretation of the text, but may or may not support originalism).
Common Misspellings: origanalism