The State of the Field

Comparative constitutional law has experienced a resurgence in recent decades. Whereas two decades ago the field was focused on the North Atlantic and the issue of rights adjudication, there now exists a vibrant literature on many different jurisdictions and issues, covering a wide field of global constitutional arrangements. This essay reviews the history and rapid progress of the field. The most encouraging and visible manifestations of this progress include a shift away from Eurocentrism and the traditional focus on apex courts. It also identifies lacunae in the existing literature and questions that would benefit from further exploration. The essay concludes by proposing a next-generation research agenda for the field.

Methodology and Research Design

Despite the tremendous renaissance of comparative constitutional law, the comparative aspect of the enterprise, as a method and a project, remains under-theorized and imprecise. Methodological self-awareness has not been one of the field’s strengths. In comparative constitutional law (and Constitutionalism in Context more generally) the term “comparative” is often used indiscriminately to describe what, in fact, are several different types of scholarship, each with its own meanings, aims and purposes. What is more, various vocational, jurisprudential, academic, and scientific stakeholders involved in practicing the art of constitutional comparison. This chapter will explore the various types, aims and methodologies deployed in exploring constitutional phenomena comparatively across time and space. In so doing, it will identify some gaps in the field’s contemporary methodological matrix and suggest ways in which these deficiencies may be addressed and overcome.

Transnational Judicial Communication: The European Union

National judicial systems within the EU face pressures toward alignment under the policy agendas for judicial cooperation connected with the Lisbon Treaty and the widespread practice of ‘transnational borrowing’ among courts. Using the CJEU and ECtHR as case studies in the phenomena of judicial culture and transnational judicial communication, this chapter explores how constitutional norms and formal policies interact with contextual influences (including informal judicial interaction and evolving national ideas and practices regarding judging and judicial organisation) to produce increasing legal alignment among the member states. In doing so, the chapter explicitly highlights the need to combine comparative legal analysis with socio-legal research methods in order to understand the evolution of constitutional law.

Social and Economic Rights: Argentina

The 1994 Argentine constitutional reforms introduced a plethora of economic, social and cultural rights to the text of the constitution, along with innovative procedural devices for vindicating those rights. More than two decades later, we have a wealth of experience with judicial interpretation and enforcement of these rights, and civil society use of the rights to pursue complex policy goals. This chapter explores that experience and describes the ways in which certain rights – such as the right to health, housing and a healthy environment – have been enforced through judicial orders. It focuses especially on the various ways in which courts have addressed the difficult task of designing, implementing and monitoring solutions to alleged violations of rights, when those violations have complex social and economic roots and any solutions consequently require extensive and long-term state involvement.

Fourth-Branch Institutions: South Africa

Scholars are increasingly taking note of a species of government institutions that fall outside the traditional separation of powers and have come to be known as the “fourth branch”: these institutions are created by constitutional design to engage in independent oversight and investigation of the other branches. Using South Africa as a case study of “fourth branch” institutions, this chapter dives deeply into the South African cases on corruption (such as the Scorpions litigation, set in its political background) before turning to the more general theme of Chapter 9 institutions in South Africa, then surveying the rise of the furth branch in constitutional systems around the world. The chapter concludes by evaluating both the value and the limits of the “deep dive” case study approach to understanding topics in constitutional design.

Nonjudicial Constitutional Interpretation: The Netherlands

How do non-judicial actors engage in constitutional guardianship? The Netherlands is a case in point: because the Dutch Constitution explicitly prohibits courts from examining the constitutionality of legislation, it has fallen to other institutions to ensure that constitutional rules and values are duly taken into account, especially when new legislation is under consideration. This chapter focuses on the role that governments and civil servants play in verifying a bill’s constitutional conformity during the drafting stage; on the Council of State, which is tasked with providing non-partisan advice to the government on new bills; and on how Parliament itself goes about confronting constitutional issues during legislative debates. The Dutch experience shows that it is possible to successfully ensure constitutional supremacy even when judges are not available to act as ultimate protectors of the national constitution.