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Letter: Justice Antonin Scalia looked for ‘original meaning’

The constitution of the United States.

The constitution of the United States. Photo Credit: iStock

Sol Wachtler’s professorial sleight of hand in “The First Amendment back on trial?” [Opinion, Jan. 23] was a particularly inartful way of misleading readers.

Wachtler should know that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia didn’t subscribe to “original intent,” but rather “original meaning.” There is a legal canyon that separates these ideas. One refers to the intent of those who drafted an instrument, the other to the meaning of the words as understood by reasonable people at the time.

Said another way, this is not legislative intent, but rather the general meaning — the public’s meaning, not the Founders’.

Wachtler’s discussion of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams was particularly disturbing, because they did not speak for everyone — only for their own intent. Wachtler actually proved Scalia’s point. Scalia’s motivation was designed to reach a desired political outcome, not to objectively analyze a legal theory.

Michael J. Butler, Greenport

Editor’s note: The writer has practiced law since 1987.