The Resurgent Role of Legal History

in Modern Judicial Decisionmaking

Unit 1

Required Reading

Optional Reading

Class Objectives


The Resurgent Role of Legal History in Modern U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Bracton’s Warning & Hamilton’s Reassurance

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  It is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.”   G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, ch. 4, The Ethics of Elfland (1909)


Winston Churchill, The Birth of Britain 158-165 (1956) (chapter on development of the common law)

James Madison’s Historical Argument on Article I’s Spending Clause (1830)

Professor Tribe’s view on the qualities necessary to be an effective USSC justice

The Federalist No. 78 (Hamilton) (“neither FORCE nor WILL”)

1 Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws 153 (1752)

Historical Sources Most Cited by Founders

Clio and the Court: A Reassessment of the Supreme Court’s Uses of History, 13 J. L. & Politics 809 (1997)

Applying a Usable Past: The Use of History in Law, 38 Seton Hall L. Rev. 479 (2008)

Antonin Scalia, Constitutional Interpretation the Old Fashioned Way (2005)

Robert G. Natelson, The Founders’ Hermeneutic: The Real Original Understanding of Original Intentions, 68 Ohio St. L.J. 1239 (2007)

Richard S. Kay, Original Intention and Public Meaning in Constitutional Interpretation, 103 N.W. U. L. Rev. 703  (2009)


Introduce class objectives, grading policies, class expectations

Survey historical development of common law

Class PowerPoint Slides

So You Think You’re Unbiased?  Think again.

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