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Originalism refers to a school of thought concerning the interpretation of law, especially constitutional law, by a judge. The idea behind originalism is that a law must be interpreted from the viewpoints extant at the time of its inception and not those of the present day. Originalism is popular with United States conservatives in general and conservative U.S. judges in particular. This can be best observed in the push for originalist judges to be nominated to positions where constitutional law cases will most likely be heard.
 Why originalism?
Conservatives have grown fearful of conservative ideals losing their cultural place as a result of constitutional legal decisions that have been handed down in recent times due to modern interpretations of the constitution. They hope that if judges hold only to the original text and intentions of the laws when they were written, they may be able to better maintain their conservative ideals in society.
The general intent is to force originalist interpretations into all judicial decisions so as to limit the ability of judges to reinterpret the constitution to align with current societal thinking.
 First Amendment
The First Amendment presents a real quandary for an originalist judge. The original interpretation, specifically, of the "free speech" is particularly troublesome. Historically, at the time of the Bill of Right's ratification, many states actively prohibited certain speech such as blasphemy and sedition. While the First Amendment did not apply to the States until the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, state criminal prosecution of speech is problematic in the sense that originalism rests on the proposition that we have to get into the heads of the Framers in order to understand what they produced. Many of the States which prohibited the aforementioned types of speech also had provisions in their own state constitutions that protected freedom of speech. Thus, if the contemporary view at the time of the adoption of the Bill of Rights was that blasphemy, for example, was not speech, then judges today must not consider it as speech as envisioned by the First Amendment. Moreover, around the time of the adoption of the Bill of Rights, there were also much broader traditions of press freedom as evidenced by writings of political leaders and the absence of prosecutions or civil actions for defamation in 18th century America. Further, the Framers split on the issue of seditious libel (criticizing the government): some considered it protected to some point by the First Amendment, some did not, a dilemma evinced both by the opposition to the First Amendment by many of the Framers, and by the debate over the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798. The issue was not definitely resolved until the twentieth century, with the Holmesian revolution of First Amendment law. Holmes' interpretation of the First Amendment, and the liberalizing of the amendment, is a doctrine almost completely of judicial invention, created more in recognizance of what have become American values than what were American values, although it is consistent with the libertarian views of free expression widely expressed in 18th century America. This, clearly, is a great dilemma: supplemented by the fact that the text of the First Amendment...
“”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...
...seems, textually, to compel a position more radical than most liberals would take: absolute free speech. This conclusion is inescapable unless one admits that some texts - indeed, constitutional texts - require more nuanced analysis.
 Second Amendment
Conservatives, the prime supporters of originalist constitutional interpretation, seem to lose their zeal for the idea when the issue concerns the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It is widely held that the Second Amendment was meant solely, as is clearly stated, to pertain to a "standing militia". The pro-gun factions seem not to notice the "militia" part of that amendment and are quite happy to have that amendment be interpreted to mean something different than the original intent.
Another significant problem with an originalist interpretation for conservatives would be that rights granted by the amendment would only apply to flintlock and older technology weapons. Post-18th century weaponry could not have been considered by the original constitutional framers of 1783 and, as such, would not be a part of the rights granted by the original intent of the amendment written by said framers.
However, emerging legal scholarship is making the case that the Second Amendment, when interpreted in the strict constructionalist manner, clearly gives Americans the right to ursine appendages.
 Eighth Amendment
The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail fines and cruel and unusual punishment. Conservatives have taken this to mean that it is okay to execute criminals since the death penalty was widespread in the 18th century. However, several other forms of punishment were also widespread at that time, such as public flogging or placing criminals in the stocks. Today such punishments are very cruel and very unusual (instead we opt for the option of depriving people of their freedom for extended periods of time). Also, if one fails to adjust for inflation the average bail fine today could be seen as excessive in the 18th century.
 The Tenth Amendment
The Tenth Amendment reserves rights not granted to the federal government to the states. Although it is incredibly rare for a law to be struck down on the basis of the Tenth today, originalists and strict constructionists will often declare just about anything not specifically mentioned in the Constitution to be unconstitutional. See states' rights and the Tenther movement.
 Problems with originalism
A significant problem with originalism, specifically relating to the Constitution of the United States, is that a document written in the 18th century cannot perfectly relate to the United States of the 21st century, so interpretation will always be required. In modern times, many issues come up which simply have no analog from the 18th century, and thus we must seek to guide ourselves, rather than trying to ask how dead men's opinions on other matters might tell us what to do.
Interestingly, asking one of those dead men (were it possible) would likely result in a response along the lines of, "We already told you what to do," and point to Article 5, which had been put into the Constitution to specifically address this problem, and would be used quite a bit during the lifetimes of those original authors.
Ironically, in order to determine the "original intent" of the documents that are actually law, originalist scholars must resort to analyzing and interpreting many contemporary documents and papers of the principals involved in the process.
Legal scholar John Ely, author of Democracy and Distrust, believes that originalism involves a certain requirement of lying to oneself, in that originalists support the theory because of the belief that, if nothing else, it is at least objective, and limits judicial activism or departure from established law. However, Ely notes that, since there are multiple versions of "tradition" and "original intent," and indeed multiple interpretations of history, originalism is incapable of being as objective as it promises.