Here are three of the most common criticisms of originalism made by non-originalists:
(1) Originalism does not provide a determinate answer to contested questions—anything beyond, say, how many senators a state gets, or how old a person must be to be president.
(2) Originalism typically produces bad answers to such contested questions.
(3) Originalism is just a cover for conservative judges to reach the results they like.
Note that No. 1 is in tension with No. 2. How can a method that fails to produce any answers to contested questions produce bad ones? As for No. 3, originalism, like any other method or theory, is not self-enforcing. Instead, it provides a basis to criticize judges who fail to adhere to original meaning when it really matters.
I like to tweak progressive non-originalists (or “living constitutionalists,” as they are sometimes called) by asking them to consider what will happen if they win the argument and persuade conservative judges to abandon their professed commitment to originalism. How will you feel, I ask, when they start using your preferred approach to reach the conservative results that they like?
Well, if conservative judges adopt the approach recommended by the Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule, progressive living constitutionalists will be able to find out exactly how they feel. In a lengthy article for The Atlantic, “Beyond Originalism,” Vermeule urges conservative scholars and judges to abandon originalism, and, in its place, to develop what he calls common-good constitutionalism. “Such an approach,” he writes, “should be based on the principles that government helps direct persons, associations, and society generally toward the common good, and that strong rule in the interest of attaining the common good is entirely legitimate.” He adds that this approach will give the government “ample power to cope with large-scale crises of public health and well-being—reading ‘health’ in many senses, not only literal and physical but also metaphorical and social” (emphasis mine).