A Debt Against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism

Ilan Wurman

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that the earth belongs to the living. His letter to James Madison is often quoted for the proposition that we should not be bound to the “dead hand of the past,” suggesting that the Constitution should instead be interpreted as a living, breathing document. Less well known is Madison’s response, in which he said that the Constitution forms a debt against the living, who take the benefit of it. This debt, Madison claimed, could only be discharged by a kind of originalism. 

Who is right? Thomas Jefferson or James Madison? 

Please join us for a conversation with Ilan Wurman, author of A Debt Against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism, to discuss this question as well as the latest scholarship and problems in originalism. Stanford law professor and former federal judge Michael W. McConnell has described the book as the first “to explain to the ordinary citizen—free from what the late Justice Antonin Scalia called ‘jiggery pokery’—what it means to understand the Constitution as enduring law rather than politics by a different name.” 

Ilan Wurman is a Nonresident Fellow at the Stanford Constitutional Law Center and an attorney in Washington, D.C. He was formerly deputy general counsel on Senator Rand Paul’s US presidential campaign, associate counsel on Senator Tom Cotton’s campaign for US Senate, and a law clerk to the honorable Jerry E. Smith of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. His writing on administrative law and constitutional interpretation has also appeared or is forthcoming in numerous law reviews, including the Stanford Law Review and the Texas Law Review, as well as in national journals, including National Affairs, The Weekly Standard, and City Journal. He graduated from Stanford Law School, and from Claremont McKenna College with degrees in Government and Physics.

A limited number of copies of the book, “A Debt Against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism” will be available for purchase at the event ($20 cash/check).


When: Wednesday, October 18, 2017, 11:30 a.m. (registration), 12:00 p.m. (lunch)

Where: First Floor Conference Center, 2040 Main Street, Irvine, (949) 760-0404. Bring your parking ticket to the luncheon for validation.

Cost: $30/members, $35/nonmembers, $20/students, for lunch and 1 hour of MCLE credit (the Federalist Society is a California State Bar approved provider of MCLE).

RSVP and Pay: To RSVP and pay by credit card, click the Buy Now button on the right. To pay by cash, credit card or check at the door, please send an RSVP to Carol Matheis, at OCFederalist@cox.net and make checks payable to "The Federalist Society."

We welcome all interested attorneys and non-attorneys to our events.

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