From presidential debates to mainstream media talk shows, arguments over the Constitution’s status as living or dead are frequent. The Federalist Society hosted an event last Thursday to help answer questions on the topic.
Ilan Wurman, visiting assistant professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, gave a lecture titled “Can a Dead Constitution Bind the Living?” in Lane Hall.
Wurman teaches administrative law and constitutional law. His writings have appeared in several journals, and he is the author of “A Debt Against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism” and “The Second Founding: An Introduction to the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Wurman’s talk focused on a short introduction to and defense of originalism.
“It’s both a conceptual defense about how texts should be interpreted, but also a normative defense of why we should be bound by this particular text that we have for a Constitution,” Wurman said.
Wurman clearly laid out the argument for why Americans should be bound to the Constitution even if the general public believes it is flawed. He argued that a constitution for a free society has to successfully balance self-government and liberty.
“These are the two objectives of a free society,” Wurman said. “And if the Constitution successfully does that, then I think that is what makes such a constitution for such a free society a binding constitution even if it is imperfect.”
President of the Federalist Society junior Daniel Grifferty said that he thought the night was a success.
“Wurman is a very engaging speaker and good at getting down to earth and doing Q&A sessions where he answers a lot of the harder questions,” Grifferty said.
Wurman finds great fulfillment in giving talks to college undergrads.
“It means a lot to me personally because I am trying to do whatever is in my power to advance the cause of liberty, free institutions, and constitutional government,” Wurman said. “And speaking to young people — the next generation — about how we should care about the Constitution and the Founders is the best thing I can be doing to help advance that mission and cause.”
The talk was met with great feedback from students.
“I chose to come to this talk because I have been a part of the Federalist Society for the past two years and it is always very edifying to come hear the speakers invited,” sophomore Mary Gregg said. “I always walk away with new information about the field I want to pursue.”
Caroline Welton felt she walked out of the talk with a better idea of originalism as an interpretation of the Constitution.
“It was a very clear defense of originalism based on an understanding of government, liberty, and self-government,” Welton said. “This is something that here at Hillsdale I think we value a lot so it is important to learn about.”
Wurman found the students of Hillsdale a receptive and cooperative audience.
“I usually do this talk to law schools and only rarely to undergrads,” Wurman said. “But I find it much more rewarding to speak to undergrads. Their minds are less fixed on things. They are more amiable to hearing new and interesting arguments. It was an absolute delight to come and speak to the very smart undergrads here at Hillsdale.”