Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Sawyer on Originalism, the South, and the New Right

We recently noted Calvin Terbeek’s article on the racial politics of originalism and now note another work on the same topic, Originalism from the Soft Southern Strategy to the New Right: The Constitutional Politics of Sam Ervin Jr, by Logan Sawyer, III, University of Georgia School of Law, in the Journal of Policy History 33:1 (January 2021): 32-59 :

Sam Ervin (LC)
Although originalism’s emergence as an important theory of constitutional interpretation is usually attributed to efforts by the Reagan administration, the role the theory played in the South’s determined resistance to civil rights legislation in the 1960s actually helped create the Reagan coalition in the first place. North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin Jr., the constitutional theorist of the Southern Caucus, developed and deployed originalism because he saw its potential to stymie civil rights legislation and stabilize a Democratic coalition under significant stress. Ervin failed in those efforts, but his turn to originalism had lasting effects. The theory helped Ervin and other conservative southerners explain to outsiders and to themselves why they shifted from support for an interventionist state powerful enough to enforce segregation to an ideology founded on individual rights and liberty. It thus eased the South’s integration with the emerging New Right.

--Dan Ernst