Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)


American Studies


Jamel K. Donnor

Committee Member

Charles McGovern

Committee Member

Simon Stow


The Fixation Thesis and its biproduct originalism claim that constitutional meaning is fixed when each provision is framed and ratified. The current conservative Supreme Court’s “fixation fixation” dominates its rulings, recently overturning long held precedents enshrining women’s health care rights and affirmative action initiatives that help ensure diversity on college campuses. Do Americans want eighteenth-century reasoning to govern their bodies, their admissions policies, their lives? What was the mindset or intent of those “original” writers? How do those motivations affect today’s Court. And can originalism, which is now clearly ascendant as a constitutional interpretive framework, be used as an effective strategy for progress and change rather than only for a curtailing of rights? This master’s thesis portfolio examines these questions by exploring the historical figure John Marshall as America’s premier original constitutional expounder, and through historical evidence of “progressive originalism.” The first part is a digital “Scalar” book entitled, Reassessing John Marshall: The Great Chief Capitalist, which examines Marshall’s intent and mindset through his private property, recorded at the time of his death, and through a variety of his public opinions, rulings that codified into law the rules of empire and white possessive logics. The second part of this portfolio is a paper entitled, “Original Dissent: Forbidden Fruit for Living Constitutionalists.” It offers an analysis of “progressive originalism” throughout history showing how it has been deployed to turn institutionalized logic against self as a strategy for incremental progress.




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Available for download on Friday, August 25, 2028