When judges decide constitutional cases, CAC believes that the text of the Constitution must be the primary source of guidance. When deciding statutory cases, the statute’s text must have the same primacy. Honest textualism requires a careful consideration of the words, patterns, and structure of the whole Constitution or statutory plan.
When interpreting the Constitution, such consideration must include the Amendments, toward understanding what the actual text means, not how one group of people may have expected the language to be applied at a particular time. While history cannot trump text, historical sources—such as the Federalist Papers, or congressional debates over the Fourteenth Amendment—can provide critical clues about what specific words meant to each generation of the Constitution’s Framers and ratifiers. As important, the best interpretations of the Constitution’s general terms and embedded principles are informed by a careful consideration of historical events that led to the creation of the Constitution, and which made changes to the document necessary.
We call this careful review of history for evidence of original meaning and insight about constitutional concepts “principled originalism.” In combination, honest textualism and principled originalism—text and history—constitute CAC’s method and form the essential foundation for assessing constitutional accountability and the meaning of statutes.