News is breaking this morning that jurist Robert Bork has passed away. Many people remember him for his failed nomination to the Supreme Court. Conservatives remember him as an ardent originalist. What separated him from so many other jurists was essentially a hermeneutical point. In a 2005 article for The Wall Street Journal, Bork boiled it down:
Originalism simply means that the judge must discern from the relevant materials–debates at the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers, newspaper accounts of the time, debates in the state ratifying conventions, and the like–the principles the ratifiers understood themselves to be enacting.
The remainder of the task is to apply those principles to unforeseen circumstances, a task that law performs all the time. Any philosophy that does not confine judges to the original understanding inevitably makes the Constitution the plaything of willful judges.
-Robert Bork, “Slouching towards Miers,” WSJ (October 19, 2005)
Robert Bork was 85 years old. RIP.