Randy E. Barnett

Randy E. Barnett is a lawyer and legal theorist, and a Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute. He is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory at Georgetown University.

Barnett writes about the libertarian theory of law and contract theory, constitutional law, and jurisprudence and is especially interested in the history and original meaning of the Second and Ninth Amendments to the United States Constitution. He fleshes out his argument for an originalist theory of constitutional interpretation in his book, Restoring the Lost Constitution, in which he advocates constitutional construction based on a presumption of liberty, instead of popular sovereignty.

Barnett is a strong proponent of federalism and has proposed a number of Constitutional Amendments to restore a more originalist balance of power, including a “Repeal Amendment,” which would give two-thirds of the states the power to repeal any federal law or regulation, and The Bill of Federalism, a list of ten proposed amendments drafted in response to the Tea Party movement’s emphasis on limiting federal powers.

In 1998, Barnett won the Ralph Gregory Elliot Book Award for his book, The Structure of Liberty, on “the liberal conception of justice,” his term for a libertarian theory of law and politics.

In 2004, he appeared before the Supreme Court to argue Gonzales v. Raich, claiming that federal action against legal marijuana patients violated the Commerce Clause. Though the case, then Ashcroft v. Raich, had won a victory before the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court ruled on June 6, 2005 that Congress had the power to prevent states from legalizing medical marijuana.


Restoring the Lost Constitution

by Randy E. Barnett on Jan 1, 2004

Barnett traces a history of Supreme Court decisions that have eviscerated the individual rights he argues the Constitution was originally intended to protect.


Spooner, Lysander (1808-1881)

by Randy E. Barnett on Aug 15, 2008

Lysander Spooner was a legal and political theorist favoring individualist anarchy. He is best known for his activism as an abolitionist.


Bill of Rights, US

by Randy E. Barnett on Aug 15, 2008

The contents and necessity of the first 10 Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, first debated by Federalists and Anti-Federalists, remains relevant today.

Free Thoughts

The Structure of Liberty

featuring Randy E. Barnett, Aaron Ross Powell, and Trevor Burrus on Jun 16, 2014

Randy Barnett describes five rights—informed by natural law—that are crucial for properly structuring a society.

Around the Web

Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty

featuring David Sentelle, Randy E. Barnett, Roger Pilon, & Walter Dellinger on Feb 4, 2004

Randy Barnett shows how the courts over the years have been cutting holes in the Constitution to eliminate the parts that impede the growth of government.

Free Thoughts

The World According to Star Wars

featuring Cass R. Sunstein, Aaron Ross Powell, and Trevor Burrus on Sep 2, 2016

Cass R. Sunstein joins us this week to talk about his new book, The World According to Star Wars. How did the Star Wars franchise become a cultural touchstone?


Libertarian Theory: A Reading List

by Aaron Ross Powell on Nov 3, 2011

A selection of books to take readers beyond the basics of libertarianism and into the philosophy and economics that provide its foundations.



by Timothy Sandefur on Aug 15, 2008

Constitutionalism binds the government to a pre-decided set of rules and is favored as a form of limiting government expansion.