Hugh Kennedy: Ireland’s (Quietly) Towering Nation-Maker

In the global pantheon of ‘towering judges’ one judge is often overlooked: Hugh Kennedy, the first Chief Justice of Ireland. Kennedy, by sheer intellectual force and principled adherence to the rule of law, dramatically transformed his legal and constitutional system. His role in shaping the constitutional system of an independent Ireland is hard to overstate: he negotiated the independence treaty that produced the 1922 Constitution, and crafted the Constitution itself, ensuring maximal autonomy for the new state by achieving agreement that it would have the same constitutional status, in both law and practice, as Canada vis-à-vis the United Kingdom. As the first Chief Justice of Ireland he was the Court’s backbone of principle, most notably enunciating (in a powerful dissent) a form of ‘basic structure’ doctrine in 1934 in the face of constitutional amendments permitting extraordinarily repressive measures to address the prevailing state of emergency.