Pete Buttigieg brilliantly explains the problems with Constitutional 'originalism'

Pete Buttigieg is having a moment. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana keeps trending on social media for his incredibly eloquent explanations of issues—so much so that L.A. Times columnist Mary McNamara has dubbed him "Slayer Pete," who...

Pete Buttigieg brilliantly explains the problems with Constitutional 'originalism'


Pete Buttigieg is having a moment. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana keeps trending on social media for his incredibly eloquent explanations of issues—so much so that L.A. Times columnist Mary McNamara has dubbed him "Slayer Pete," who excels in "the five-minute, remote-feed evisceration." From his old-but-newly-viral explanation of late-term abortion to his calm calling out of Mike Pence's hypocrisy, Buttigieg is making a name for himself as Biden's "secret weapon" and "rhetorical assassin."

And now he's done it again, this time taking on the 'originalist' view of the Constitution.

Constitutional originalists contend that the original meaning of the words the drafters of the Constitution used and their intention at the time they wrote it are what should guide interpretation of the law. On the flip side are people who see the Constitution as a living document, meant to adapt to the times. These are certainly not the only two interpretive options and there is much debate to be had as to the merits of various approaches, but since SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett is an originalist, that view is currently part of the public discourse.

Buttigieg explained the problem with originalism in a segment on MSNBC, speaking from what McNamara jokingly called his "irritatingly immaculate kitchen." And in his usual fashion, he totally nails it. After explaining that he sees "a pathway to judicial activism cloaked in judicial humility" in Coney Barrett's descriptions of herself, he followed up with:


"At the end of the day, rights in this country have been expanded because courts have understood what the true meaning of the letter of the law and the spirit of the Constitution is. And that is not about time traveling yourself back to the 18th century and subjecting yourself to the same prejudices and limitations as the people who write these words.

The Constitution is a living document because the English language is a living language, and you need to have some readiness to understand that in order to serve on the court in a way that's going to make life better. It was actually Thomas Jefferson himself who said 'we might as well ask a man to wear the coat that fitted him when he was a boy' as expect future generations to live under what he called 'the regime of their barbarous ancestors.'

So even the founders that these kind of dead-hand originalists claim fidelity to understood better than their ideological descendants—today's judicial so-called conservatives—the importance of keeping with the times. And we deserve judges and justices who understand that."

It's not just what Mayor Pete says, but the way he says it. While we have plenty of politicians who rant and rave, sometimes totally incoherently, Buttigieg calmly and coherently destroys arguments with intelligence, eloquence, and compassion. He almost sounds as if he's telling a bedtime story while he blowtorches political talking points into oblivion. It's really something to witness.

It's also apparently something many people totally missed during the primaries. Multiple social media posts asking, "Where was this Mayor Pete on the campaign trail?" have been met with Buttiegieg fans saying, "Umm, this is who he always was. You just missed it." In our ugly political landscape, the guy who doesn't yell or say outrageous things, who methodically lays out arguments, and who forces people to think critically doesn't stand out in a crowded field as much as he probably should.

But the 39-year-old veteran still has many years ahead of him in politics, and there is little doubt that Buttigieg will find a place in a Biden administration. Please just keep on talking, Pete. After nearly four years of word salad coming from the White House, intelligent thoughts expressed in full sentences is a welcome change.

And yeah. Love that kitchen.