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In this article, we argue that the 2022 Chilean draft Constitution helps to articulate the distinction between a transformative constitutional project and a utopian one. Whereas a transformative project lays down markers for social change that will take time to achieve, a utopian project sets out goals that are unlikely to be achieved within any reasonable timeframe. Utopianism is a product of two relationships. The first is the internal relationship between the transformative goals laid out in a constitution and the institutional pathways through which changes will occur. The second is the external relationship between the goals in the text and the views and support of key groups. In Chile, both relationships were problematic. First, the Convention adopted a draft that was heavy on ambitious programmatic content but lacked a clear vision of how to implement it. Second, the Convention produced a draft that was supported by the ephemeral civil society groups galvanized by the 2019 protests but divorced from the vision of Chile’s parties and public opinion. Some of this was a product of the peculiar electoral context in which the Convention acted, which has already been corrected. But some of it reflects deeper tensions within transformative constitutionalism.
How should the constitutional reform in Israel be assessed in comparative terms? Comparative constitutional understandings point to the centrality of three key sets of norms as part of the ‘democratic minimum core’: (i) commitments to free and fair, regular multi-party elections; (ii) political rights and freedoms; and (iii) a system of institutional checks and balances necessary to maintain (i) and (ii). Any change in judicial power and independence must be assessed against the benchmark of the democratic minimum core, and by reference to its cumulative practical effect on a system of institutional checks and balances.
We claim that recent changes in Israel may already threaten these institutional checks, and have the potential to do more damage in the future, if given broad effect and if combined with further changes in the power and independence of the Supreme Court. On this basis, we suggest, the relevant changes should be viewed as either ‘abusive’ or ‘proto-abusive’ in nature. By threatening to undermine both the power and independence of the Supreme Court of Israel, they directly threaten the health of the constitutional checks and balances system and, hence, the ‘democratic minimum core’ in Israel.
In 2021, the Chilean Convention became the first constitution-making body with gender parity. However, the draft – which reflected many gender-related norms – was rejected by 61.89 per cent of voters in the exit plebiscite of 2022. In this article, we argue that although parity constitutionalism has promise and, in the Chilean case, was linked to gender-related outcomes in the constitutional text, parity’s promise may fail to materialize. We thus caution against a naïve view of parity constitutionalism as one of the key legacies of the 2020–22 Chilean constitution-making process.
This brief essay contrasts two modes of constitutional change: abusive constitutional projects that seek to erode democracy and restorative constitutional projects that aim to repair eroded democratic constitutional orders. Constitutional democracies are eroded and restored via the same mechanisms: formal processes of constitutional amendment and replacement, legislative amendment, changes to executive policies and practices (or respect for conventions), and processes of judicial decision-making. Under the right conditions, abusive uses of these mechanisms for antidemocratic ends can be reversed by prodemocratic or restorative uses. The more difficult question is what kinds of political discourses are most likely to sustain successful processes of democratic rebuilding. In recent work, we have pointed to the role sometimes played by liberal democratic discourses as purported justifications for processes of abusive constitutional change: we label this the rise of “abusive constitutional borrowing.” Less well understood are the kind of discourses likely to sustain successful democratic healing or rebuilding. Often, the most popular discourse is a restorative one, which focuses on repairing damage caused by authoritarians and returning to a constitutional status quo ante. In this essay, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of restorative constitutionalism as a response to prior episodes of democratic erosion.
This symposium explores the role of “fourth branch” institutions, and specifically the role of independent electoral commissions (IECs) in protecting and promoting constitutional democracy. It does so by focusing on the global South, and Asia in particular. It aims to go beyond the “usual suspects” in comparative constitutional law, and put the constitutional experiences of countries such as Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka at the centre of a decolonized constitutional project and understanding, supplementing them with an examination of more-often-studied systems such as Australia and India.
This chapter offers a concluding reflection on the idea of a towering judge, its value, complexity and potential dangers. Drawing on prior chapters and contributions, it suggests that the idea of a towering judge could be understood in more or less objective/subjective, national/international and relative/absolute terms, as well as across different time frames. It notes the value in asking these questions, as well as in studying the jurisprudence of leading judges cross-nationally. At the same time, it suggests several potential dangers associated with a focus on ‘towering judges’. The idea of a towering judge may tend to privilege chief justices over other leading judges, and male over female justices. And it may not always be a good thing for the courts on which a judge serves. The chapter therefore concludes the volume with a note of caution: even while acknowledging the value of studying leading judges, we might ultimately do better to celebrate more collegial, non-dominant forms of judicial leadership.
This chapter critically evaluates the impact of the Indian Supreme Court's interim orders in the Right to Food case, a Writ Petition seeking better implementation of the Midday Meal Program (the largest school nutritional program in the world). We cite significant and varied empirical and social science evidence demonstrating that the Program expanded significantly – from a quantitative as well as a qualitative standpoint – in the years immediately following the Court's orders. The harder question is whether the expansion in the Program was "caused" by the Court's intervention, or was largely the consequence of changed political circumstances. We argue that while the supportive political environment was undoubtedly a significant factor, the evidence available seems to indicate that the Court played an important role too. These orders helped in improving the scheme in certain specific respects, in bringing sustained media attention to the issue, in entrenching the Program against subsequent shifts in political priorities, and in providing a platform for the broader social movement to coalesce around. The experience suggests that there is room for "qualified hope" as to the ability of courts to help realize socio-economic rights, albeit in certain limited situations and in partnership with other actors.
The idea of a constitutional ‘dialogue’ between courts and legislatures, the chapter argues, is at once potentially both useful and misleading: it is useful, in that it helps draw attention to the possibility that judicial review may be de facto ‘weak’ or non-final in nature. But it is also dangerous, if understood to suggest that judicial review is always, inevitably, de facto weak or non-final. The true finality of judicial review, the chapter suggests, ultimately depends on the willingness of courts to defer to certain kinds of legislative constitutional judgements in ‘second look’ cases. Deference of this kind is also inherently controversial both among judges and scholars, including many dialogue theorists. At least some uses of the dialogue metaphor, therefore, may downplay legitimate concerns in many constitutional systems about the ‘counter-majoritarian difficulty’ associated with strong forms of judicial review. Whether or not this is sufficient to point to a move away from the metaphor depends in part on volumes such as this, and whether they can encourage a more contingent, qualified view of the idea of dialogue – and one more closely connected to (certain limited kinds of) constitutional deference by courts.