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Print Vol. 106, Issue 3

Article

A Tale of Two Formalisms: How Law and Economics Mirrors Originalism and Textualism

Neil H. Buchanan, Professor of Law and James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar Chair in Taxation, Fredric G. Levin College of Law, The University of Florida

Michael C. Dorf, Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law, Cornell Law School

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27 Mar 2021

Two leading schools of thought among U.S. conservative legal elites—Law and Economics (L&E) and Originalism and Textualism (O&T)—both purport to use their formalist structures to guide analysis in ways that are objective, substantially determinate, and apolitical. Because they rest on very different theoretical underpinnings, L&E and O&T should only randomly reach similar policy or legal conclusions. After all, L&E implements neoclassical economics, a theory of utility maximization, whereas O&T is a theory of semantics. Yet as practiced, L&E and O&T rarely result in conflict. What explains the missing intra-conservative clash? Despite their respective pretenses to objectivity, determinacy, and political neutrality, neither theory delivers on its promises. Economic efficiency, the linchpin of L&E, is incoherent because it relies on typically hidden but ultimately normative assumptions about preferences that would exist in an impossible world without law. O&T as it has been refined in response to devastating criticisms of earlier versions is indistinguishable from ostensibly less determinate rivals like Living Constitutional-ism and purposivism. Accordingly, conservatives use L&E and O&T to obscure the role of normative priors, perhaps even from themselves. Liberals could use the same techniques for different results but heretofore generally have not, instead mostly settling for counterpunching against charges of result-orientation.

This Article argues that we have witnessed substantially less direct conflict between L&E and O&T than one would expect because, despite their different foundations, the two approaches closely resemble each other in a way that permits conservative jurists to make all-things-considered and ideologically laden value choices and then use L&E, O&T, or both to offer post hoc rationalizations for those choices.

To read more, please click here: A Tale of Two Formalisms: How Law and Economics Mirrors Originalism and Textualism.

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