Christopher Hurtado —  February 9, 2010
Brest | Christopher Hurtado

Original understanding refers to the philosophy of adjudication that considers the Constitution and the notions of its adopters are binding. The intent of this philosophy is the consistent interpretation of the Constitution over time. Originalism can be divided into four forms: “strict originalism” (or literalism), “strict intentionalism,” “moderate originalism” and “nonoriginalism.” The intent of the strict textualists is to interpret the text of the constitution very narrowly and precisely. The aim of intentionalism is to interpret the text according to the intent of the framers and adopters of the Constitution. The more common “moderate originalism” holds the text of the Constitution as authoritative, but open to interpretation according to the general purpose of the adopters. Nonoriginalist interpretation views the original history of the Constitution as grounds for inference of the appropriate interpretation, while at the same time leaving it open to revision or valid objection, and even forfeiture or annulment, according to changing experiences and perceptions.

Textualism assumes that (a) only a written text can impose constitutional obligations, or (b) that the adopters of the Constitution intended it to be interpreted according to strict textualism, or (c) that the text is the surest way to ensure the correct interpretation of the intent of the adopters. Intentionalists, on the other hand, view the Constitution as a useful guide to determining the intent of its adopters, but do not accord it favored status over other sources.

Intentionalist interpretation occurs in three stages: (1) an attempt to understand constitutional concepts and values from the perspective of the worldview of its adopters, (2) the ascertainment of the intended scope accorded a given provision by the adopters of the Constitution, and (3) the occasional “translation” of the concepts and intentions of the adopters of the Constitution so as to apply them to situations unforeseen by them.

Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.