Originalism and History: An Interdisciplinary Discussion at Northwestern

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Northwestern Pritzker School of Law: “Originalism and History: An Interdisciplinary Discussion”


On October 4, professors John O. McGinnis and James E. Pfander will host a JMC-supported conference at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law. The interdisciplinary conference, made possible by a grant from the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, will focus on the subject of originalism and history and consist of three sessions (bolded names indicate JMC fellows):


Session 1: What Knowledge of History do Originalists Need?

  1. Larry Solum, “Legal Theory Lexicon: Originalism”
  2. Robert W. Gordon, “Critical Legal Histories”
  3. Jonathan Gienapp, “Constitutional Originalism and History”
  4. Randy Barnett, “Challenging the Priesthood of  Professional Historians”
  5. Jonathan Gienapp, “Knowing How v. Knowing That: Navigating the Past”


Session 2: What Knowledge of Law Do Historians Need?

  1. William Baude and Stephen E. Sachs, “Originalism and the Law of the Past”
  2. Rick Hills, “What Makes History Constitutionally Relevant: Some Reservations about Baude and Sachs’s View of the Past”
  3. Thomas R. Lee & James Phillips, “Data Driven Originalism”


Session 3: Historians and Originalists in Court

  1. Brief of Second Amendment Foundation by Nelson Lund in District of Columbia v. Heller
  2. Brief of Amici Curiae, Jack Rakove, et al. in District of Columbia v. Heller
  3. Brief of Historians in District of Columba v. Trump
  4. Brief of Seth Tillman in District of Columbia v. Trump


Friday, October 4, 2019
Pritzker School of Law • Northwestern University

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McGinnis photoJohn O. McGinnis is the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University’s School of Law. Professor McGinnis clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. From 1987 to 1991, he was deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. His most recent books include Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Government Through Technology (Princeton, 2013) and Originalism and the Good Constitution (Harvard, 2013) (with Mike Rappaport). He also writes frequently for numerous publications, including William and Mary Law Review, Library of Law and Liberty, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Time, The Wall Street Journal, and Notre Dame Law Review. He is a past winner of the Paul Bator Award, given by the Federalist Society to an outstanding academic under 40. Professor McGinnis has been listed by the United States on the roster of panelists who may be called upon to decide World Trade Organization Disputes.

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James E. Pfander is the Owen L. Coon Professor of Law at Northwestern University’s School of Law. He has focused his teaching and research on the role of the federal judiciary under Article III of the Constitution. A member of the American Law Institute, Professor Pfander recently concluded his work as reporter/consultant to the Federal-State Jurisdiction Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States. He has served as chair of both the federal courts and civil procedure sections of the Association of American Law Schools. His latest book, Constitutional Torts and the War on Terror (Oxford U. Press 2017), documents and evaluates the failure of the federal courts to address rendition, military detention, and torture during the Bush Administration’s war on terror. Other books include Civil Procedure: A Modern Approach (7th ed. 2018) (with Marcus, Redish & Sherman); Federal Courts: Cases, Comments, and Questions (8th ed. 2018) (with Redish & Sherry), and Principles of Federal Jurisdiction (3d ed. 2017).

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The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law was the first law school established in the city of Chicago. The school has one of the lowest student-faculty ratios and students enjoy an unusual amount of individual access to scholars, even after graduation. Northwestern Law’s proximity to courts, commerce, and public interest activities enables students to experience the practice of law, as well as its theory, in one of the most vibrant legal and business communities in the world.

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