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Common law originalism: 2019 Walter Berns Annual Constitution Day Lecture with James Stoner

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The Constitution was drafted in a legal and political setting informed by unwritten common law. To grasp the Constitution’s original meaning requires attention to that context, not only for the interpretation of terms of art but also for helping gauge the framers’ intentions. Moreover, constitutional issues in our own day, from sovereign immunity to birthright citizenship, from freedom of speech to due process, gain greater clarity when viewed from a common-law perspective. The common-law tradition is deeply rooted in American constitutional democracy, a fact worth remembering in this politically polarized age.

Please join AEI for the eighth annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture, as James Stoner Jr. traces out the various connections between American constitutionalism, the common law, and approaches to interpreting the Constitution.

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


5:15 PM

5:30 PM
Yuval Levin, AEI

5:35 PM
James R. Stoner, Louisiana State University

6:20 PM

6:30 PM
Adjournment and reception

Speaker Biographies

Yuval Levin is a resident scholar and director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at AEI and the founding editor of National Affairs. He is also a senior editor of The New Atlantis and a contributing editor to National Review. Previously, Dr. Levin served as a member of the White House domestic policy staff under President George W. Bush. He was also executive director of the President’s Council on Bioethics and a congressional staffer at the member, committee, and leadership levels. In addition to being interviewed frequently on radio and television, Dr. Levin has published essays and articles in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Commentary. He is the author of several books on political theory and public policy, most recently “The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism” (Basic Books, 2016). In early 2020, he will publish his next book, “A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream” (Basic Books).

James R. Stoner is the Hermann Moyse Jr. Professor and director of the Eric Voegelin Institute in the Department of Political Science at Louisiana State University (LSU). He is the author of “Common-Law Liberty: Rethinking American Constitutionalism” (University Press of Kansas, 2003); “Common Law and Liberal Theory: Coke, Hobbes, and the Origins of American Constitutionalism” (University Press of Kansas, 1992); and a number of articles and essays. In 2009, he was named a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute, and he has coedited three books published by Witherspoon: “The Thriving Society: On the Social Conditions of Human Flourishing” (with Harold James, 2015), “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers” (with Donna M. Hughes, 2010), and “Rethinking Business Management: Examining the Foundations of Business Education” (with Samuel Gregg, 2008). He was the 2010 recipient of the Honors College Sternberg Professorship at LSU. Dr. Stoner has taught at LSU since 1988, chaired the Department of Political Science from 2007 to 2013, and served as acting dean of the Honors College in fall 2010. He was a member of the National Council on the Humanities from 2002 to 2006. In 2002–03, he was a visiting fellow in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, where he returned in the 2013–14 academic year as Garwood Visiting Professor in the fall and visiting fellow in the spring. He has teaching and research interests in political theory, English common law, and American constitutionalism.

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