The 'Originalists Against Trump' Manifesto

“Trump’s long record of statements and conduct,” the signatories argue, “have shown him indifferent or hostile to the Constitution’s basic features.”

Khizr Khan, whose son, Humayun S. M. Khan died while serving in the U.S. Army, offers to loan his copy of the Constitution to Donald Trump, on the last night of the Democratic National Convention in July 2016.  (Mike Segar / Reuters)

Americans who are committed to the original meaning of the Constitution should reject Donald Trump.

That’s the case I’ve made in a series of posts refuting arguments that judicial appointments are a good reason to back the Republican nominee. And it’s a case originalist law professor Ilya Somin has made repeatedly at The Washington Post. For anyone who is less moved by arguments than endorsements from prominent advocates for the primacy of the Constitution in American life, the case against Trump now has the imprimatur of numerous committed originalists.

On Monday, “Originalists Against Trump” published their manifesto, signed by conservative luminary George Will, Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Professor Richard A. Epstein, Oren Cass, the domestic policy director for Romney-Ryan 2012, Professor Jonathan H. Adler, and many others. As the signatories see it, “Trump’s long record of statements and conduct, in his campaign and in his business career, have shown him indifferent or hostile to the Constitution’s basic features—including a government of limited powers, an independent judiciary, religious liberty, freedom of speech, and due process of law.”

In particular, they note the following:

  • The President must take care that the laws be faithfully executed; he admires dictators as above the law.
  • The President must serve as Commander in Chief, enforcing rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces; he praises armed repression and makes light of the laws of war.
  • The President must hold a public trust on behalf of all Americans; he courts those who would deny to others the equal protection of the laws.
  • The President must preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution; he has treated the legal system as a tool for arbitrary and discriminatory ends, especially against those who criticize him or his policies.

The few prominent originalists who support Donald Trump fail to understand not only the shortcomings listed above, but the catastrophe that will befall the originalist cause if the GOP rallies around a president as he subverts originalism. In that case, neither major political coalition would be defending the approach. It is far better, from an originalist perspective, to have one major party working on behalf of originalism, even if that party does not control the presidency for the next four years, than to have the only party that might plausibly advance that agenda be overtaken by a man who neither understands nor respects the Constitution.

“We urge all like-minded Americans to vote their consciences in November,” the signatories conclude. “And we call on them, through their voices and their ballots, to deny the executive power of the United States to a man as unfit to wield it as Donald Trump.”