Does ‘Originalism’ Mean Adhering to the Three-Fifths Compromise?

A viral Instagram post with text over a photo of recently sworn in Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett reads: “I’m an originalist, that means I follow the law as it was when the country was founded. Yes I know Black people were considered to be ⅗ human then, so what?” The post has been liked over 28,000 times since it was posted on Tuesday.

Although Barrett does in fact describe herself as an originalist, the post is false.

Barrett described her perspective on originalism on the second day of her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 13: “So in English, that means that I interpret the Constitution as a law, that I interpret its text as text and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it,” said Barrett. “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.”

The term “originalism” was coined in the 1980s as a way to describe a judicial philosophy focused on understanding and interpreting the Constitution with its original meaning.

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