In June 1986, at an otherwise nondescript Attorney General’s Conference on Economic Liberties, Antonin Scalia made an iconic sales pitch. Originalism – a judicial theory holding that the Constitution should be interpreted in line with the framers’ thinking – needed rebranding, he told the conference. Originalists, he said, “ought to campaign to change the label from the doctrine of original intent to the doctrine of original meaning.”
In other words, instead of trying to intuit what James Madison or Alexander Hamilton may have intended, rely on what the public would have understood their words to mean at the time, using contemporary dictionaries and news coverage among other sources. Months later, then-Judge Scalia would be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. He would become a pioneer of original meaning originalism, and constitutional law would never be the same again.