In three recent cases, the constitutional concepts of history and tradition have played important roles in the reasoning of the Supreme Court. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization relied on history and tradition to overrule Roe v. Wade. New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen articulated a history and tradition test for the validity of laws regulating the right to bear arms recognized by the Second Amendment. Kennedy v. Bremerton School District looked to history and tradition in formulating the test for the consistency of state action with the Establishment Clause.
These cases raise important questions about the Court’s approach to constitutional interpretation and construction. Do Dobbs, Bruen, and Kennedy represent a new theory of constitutional interpretation and construction based on history and tradition? In the alternative, should the references to history and tradition in these opinions be understood through the lens of Constitutional Pluralism as modalities of constitutional argument? Finally, can the use of history and tradition in Dobbs, Bruen, and Kennedy be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s embrace of Public Meaning Originalism?
Part I of this Article elucidates the constitutional concepts of history and tradition. Part II lays out four distinct roles that history and tradition can play: (1) as evidence of original meaning and purpose, (2) as modalities of constitutional argument within a constitutional pluralist framework, (3) as a novel constitutional theory, which we call “Historical Traditionalism,” and (4) as an implementing doctrine. Part III investigates the roles of history and tradition in Dobbs, Bruen, and Kennedy. Part IV articulates a comprehensive strategy for the incorporation of history and tradition in constitutional jurisprudence.
Randy E. Barnett and Lawrence B. Solum,
Originalism After Dobbs, Bruen, and Kennedy: The Role of History and Tradition,
Nw. U. L. Rev.