Why conservative reformers should be ‘originalists’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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My latest column for The Week is on “Why Bobby Jindal has to play dumb (and why many young D.C. pundits loathe him for it.”) It raises a lot of questions (about Jindal, the media, obscurantism in the base, etc.), but probably the most important question raised is how conservatism should adapt in order to remain relevant.

As the column notes “I am not suggesting conservatives betray first principles, but rather, apply them to 21st century problems — and then communicate them in a language that might appeal to an increasingly urban, ethnic, and sophisticated audience.”

I’ve struggled to explain what this means, but in light of the fact that everyone is talking about the Supreme Court today (and their decision not to release any decisions today), I think the following analogy is appropriate, or at least, timely.

So here goes.

Justice Scalia is an originalist, but this doesn’t mean he refuses weigh-in on problems the Founders could never have envisioned. Rather, his goal is to apply the Founder’s intent to modern situations.

For example, let’s take his dissent over the ruling that the police may take a DNA swab of a person merely arrested for a crime. DNA testing obviously didn’t exist during colonial times, but Scalia can extrapolate, based on his reading of the Bill of Rights, that the Founders would have opposed it. (“I would not want to have been the royal officer charged with swabbing the cheek of Patrick Henry,” he joked.)

This does not mean that Scalia believes in a “living breathing” Constitution that can be reinterpreted (in fact, that’s the opposite of what he believes.) But it does mean he believes we can apply the principles of old to modern times.

And that’s essentially what I’m proposing conservatives do as we seek to modernize, but not moderate.

Read the whole thing here. 

Matt K. Lewis