Originalism and the rule of law

8459580668_6b116eeb71_zDuring his confirmation hearing for Supreme Court justice, liberal senators interrogated Neil Gorsuch about his judicial philosophy of “originalism.”

Because the founders used “he” to refer to the president, does this mean you don’t believe that a woman can serve in that office?

Because the authors of the 14th Amendment didn’t think about women or gays when they drew up the equal rights protection, does that mean you don’t think it applies to women or gays?

Judge Gorsuch replied that such questions show a misunderstanding of what “originalism” means.  That approach does not look for meaning in subjective interpretations of readers, whether of the time it was written or today.  Rather, it looks for meaning in what the law says.

To discern that, you have to research what the words meant to the lawmakers who passed the law; that is, their original intent.  But to interpret (or throw out) a law based on speculation about the personal beliefs of the authors–as opposed to what they said–is more like what liberal interpreters do when they interpret the laws according to their own personal beliefs.  Thus, “originalism” refers to the original language, not historical origins.

That is, originalists believe that the meaning of language and thus the law is objective, not subjective.  The 14th Amendment  guarantees the equal protection of the laws to all Americans, so that would include categories of Americans that the authors didn’t think of at the time.

The rule of law, notes an editorial on the subject (quoted and excerpted after the jump), depends on the law having an objective meaning.

This debate reminds me of different approaches to the Bible.  Do we interpret it according to what we want it to mean?  That’s basically the approach of liberal theology.  Or do we believe in what it says? [Read more…]

America’s first genderless person

3480129261_366d9afb00_zA Portland judge approved a petition from a 27-year-old man to legally change his gender to “genderless.”

In doing so, the petitioner’s name was legally changed to “Patch.”  No last name.

Patch also repudiates all pronouns.   “Even gender-neutral pronouns don’t feel as if they fit me,” Patch said. “I feel no identity or closeness with any pronouns I’ve come across. What describes me is my name.”  (Patch here does use “I,” “me,” and “my.”)

Patch is the first American to have the legal status of being “agender.”  And the judge who made the ruling is the first to make being genderless an actual legal category. [Read more…]

A comma rule goes to court

dont_take_my_oxford_comma_tshirtWhich is correct?:  men, women, and children.  Or men, women and children.

Some authorities, including many newspaper style sheets, say that you don’t need a comma after the last item in a series when it is preceded by a conjuction.  The reasoning is that the conjunction (e.g., and) separates the last item from the rest of the list.

Other authorities insist that you do need the comma before the conjunction.  This so-called “Oxford comma” is necessary because a conjunction joins words.  It makes no sense to have a conjunction both join and separate the items in a list.  (This is the rule that I have taught and live by.)

But now a court has weighed in, sort of.  Consider this phrase in a legal description of work rules that define what does not merit overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Look at the conjunction “or.”  Is “packing for shipment or distribution” one thing.  Or is it referring to two separate processes as part of the previous list?:  “packing for shipment, or distribution. . . .”?

“Packing for shipment or distribution” would not earn overtime pay. But just plain distribution–the guys who drive the trucks–would get overtime.  If there is an Oxford comma, however, “distribution” would be a separate category that would not get overtime and the truck drivers would be out of luck.

I would say that what governs the series is not so much whether or not there is a comma but another rule for series:  that they have grammatically parallel constructions.  This is a series of gerunds:  -ing added to a verb to make a noun.  We have eight of them:  processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marking, storing, packing.

At stake in the grammar and punctuation of this sentence is much money in overtime pay and back wages.  See how the judge ruled after the jump. [Read more…]

A new Bible translation from Lutherans

I recently blogged about the new Bible translation, the Christian Standard Bible.  I didn’t realize until alerted by commenter MarkB that a new translation led by Lutherans is also in the works, the Evangelical Heritage Version.

This comes from an independent venture known as the Wartburg Project.  Those doing the work are scholars from the Wisconsin Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  The publisher will be Northwestern Publishing House, the publishing arm of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

For how the new translation will be different from other translations, check out the  FAQ’s on the website and the distinctives.

The plan is for the completed Bible to be released this Fall, in time for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation on October 31.  You can download The Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Psalms  on Kindle for 99 cents at Amazon, or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. You can also get free downloads of the lectionary readings  and the passion history.Do you see a problem with a “Lutheran Bible”?  Is that too much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses having their own Bible so as to give support for their own idiosyncratic teachings?  The American Translation by William F. Beck is another Lutheran translation, but its clarity of expression has won it non-Lutheran fans. The Wartburg Project insists that the Evangelical Heritage Version is not sectarian but can be used by all Christians.

That was certainly the case with Luther’s translation.  When Luther was in hiding at the Wartburg castle, he translated the Bible, known at the time only in Latin,  from the original Hebrew and Greek into vernacular German.  William Tyndale, who studied at Wittenberg, emulated Luther’s translation (including its phraseology) by translating the Bible into English.  Tyndale was burned at the stake for doing so–in Brussels at the behest of  the Anglican King Henry VIII, not the Catholics, as I had long assumed–but his Bible (and thus Luther’s Bible) had a great influence on the King James translation that would come.  The Bible began to be translated into many other languages.  The Wartburg Project evidently seeks to be part of that tradition.

After the jump is an excerpt and link to the project’s website giving the “Rubrics” for the new translation.

Here is why I am excited about the Evangelical Heritage Version:  At the Christian Standard Bible post, I complained about how so many contemporary translations get rid of the Bible’s ambiguities and figures of speech in their zeal to explain what the verse “really means.”  I want what the text says.   That includes the poetic and stylistic features of the original.

According to these Rubrics, the translators of the Evangelical Heritage Version agree with me!  I put the Rubrics that show the translators’ literary sensitivity in bold. [Read more…]

A new Bible translation

A new Bible translation has been published:  The Christian Standard Bible.

This is a thorough scholarly revision of the Holman Standard Bible.  It’s published by LifeWay, the Southern Baptist publisher, but the new version reportedly has had input from scholars from 17 different denominations, including Lutheran, and the translation was scrutinized for any denominational bias.

The new version employs what it calls an “Optimal Equivalence” approach to translation, rendering sentences literally except for when they would be confusing for modern readers, in which case a more dynamic equivalent approach is used.

You can read the Christian Standard Bible online.  Here are some verse comparisons

For more information, go to the website.  Check out the FAQs.

What do you think about this translation?  I’ll give you some of my thoughts after the jump.

[Read more…]

Pluto might get promoted back to “planet”

Nh-pluto-in-true-color_2x_JPEG-edit-frameThe recent space probe to Pluto revealed it to be no mere frozen rock but a complex world.  Now NASA scientists involved with that project are proposing a new definition of “planet” that would restore Pluto to its former planetary status.

Possible problems:  The new definition would also make the Earth’s moon a planet.  Also 110 other celestial bodies in our solar system.

But read the reasoning after the jump. [Read more…]