Why originalism matters

In his opinion for a unanimous three judge panel of the D.C. Circuit declaring unconstitutional President Obama’s purported recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, Judge Laurence Silberman eloquently explained why adherence to the original meaning of the Constitution is so important:

In any event, if some administrative inefficiency results from our construction of the original meaning of the Constitution, that does not empower us to change what the Constitution commands. As the Supreme Court observed in INS v. Chadha, “the fact that a given law or procedure is efficient, convenient, and useful in facilitating functions of government, standing alone, will not save it if it is contrary to the Constitution.” 462 U.S. at 944. It bears emphasis that “[c]onvenience and efficiency are not the primary objectives—or the hallmarks—of democratic government.” Id.

The power of a written constitution lies in its words. It is those words that were adopted by the people. When those words speak clearly, it is not up to us to depart from their meaning in favor of our own concept of efficiency, convenience, or facilitation of the functions of government. In light of the extensive evidence that the original public meaning of “happen” was “arise,” we hold that the President may only make recess appointments to fill vacancies that arise during the recess.

 

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