The 2009-2010 James Goold Cutler Lecture was given by Professor Nathaniel Persily on September 17, 2009, at William & Mary Law School as part of the College’s Constitution Day Celebration. The lecture was titled "Originalism in the American Mind: Public Opinion and Judicial Decisionmaking." Persily is the Charles Keller Beekman Professor of Law and Political Science at Columbia University and a nationally recognized expert on election law. He is the founder and director of the Center for Law and Politics at Columbia Law School.
Persily's scholarship focuses on American election law and addresses issues such as voting rights, political parties, campaign finance, and redistricting. His Cutler lecture explored the changing nature of constitutional originalism, and examined some of the demographic statistics relevant to originalist theory. Persily concluded that although the data demonstrate that Americans have strong feelings on the subject, demographic variables are not especially significant in predicting attitudes on originalism. Instead, he offered, moral traditionalism, self-reliance, egalitarianism and concerns about big government are all powerfully associated with attitudes about originalism.
Dean Davison Douglas was among the attendees at this standing-room-only event. “Professor Persily offered a splendid Cutler Lecture in which he used survey data to examine the effect of Supreme Court decisions on American public opinion and to identify the characteristics of those Americans most likely to embrace an originalist view of constitutional interpretation,” Douglas said. “I’m delighted that the William and Mary Law Review will be publishing his lecture.”
Persily is the author of numerous articles on campaign finance reform, voting rights, the 2000 census and the redistricting process, and the legal separation of political parties. His most recent work, which examines the effects of court decisions on American public opinion, appeared in his co-edited book, Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy (Oxford Press, 2008).
Persily received a B.A. and M.A. in political science from Yale in 1992. He earned his J.D. from Stanford in 1998, where he was president of the Stanford Law Review, and received his Ph.D. in political science from U.C. Berkeley in 2002.
The Cutler Lecture series was established in 1927 by James Goold Cutler of Rochester, NY, to provide an annual lecture at William & Mary by "an outstanding authority on the Constitution of the United States." The original series of 16 lectures were held from 1928 to 1944. After a period of dormancy, the Cutler lectures were revived in 1980-81 under the auspices of the Law School, with each lecture published in the William and Mary Law Review.