Annual Princeton ConLaw Schmooze

The Constitution and Human Rights

Fri, 12/05/2014 to Sat, 12/06/2014
By invitation only
By Invitation Only

Participant Login - papers and schedule

This workshop is the Princeton version of the Constitutional Law "Schmooze." The "Schmooze" has brought together major scholars in both law schools and political science departments for decades.  Our theme this year is  "The Constitution and Human Rights."

Usually, the phrase “human rights” (as opposed to “constitutional rights”) points to sources outside a constitutional text as the origin or basis for a rights claim.  The title of this year’s Schmooze is intended to focus our attention on the way that ideas about rights enter constitutional orders.  How do histories, traditions, or legal ideas that originated somewhere else – either from a pre-constitutional history or from another (philosophical or religious) tradition or from a different legal system or from international law – come to be adopted as internal to constitutional argument?    How are “human rights” resisted by constitutional orders?   The topic invites us to consider the constitution as a legal order that is not fully self-contained.   

 “Human rights” could reference the rights that appear in international human rights treaties or in international humanitarian law.   In this perspective, thinking about the constitution and human rights would invite a conversation about the relationship between national and international law. 

“Human rights” could also mean those rights that are common to a number of constitutional systems.  Constitutional drafters often insert rights in new constitutions by borrowing liberally from other constitutions.   In this perspective, comparative constitutional law could be invoked to elaborate circulations of rights. 

Alternatively, “human rights” might reference “natural rights” – a set of pre-political claims that precede the state.    In fact, “human rights” could come from any one of a number of extra-legal traditions – for example, systems of religious belief or philosophical commitment, many of which imagine rights without or before a state. 

Alternatively, “human rights” might call up ideas are broader than a list of enumerated rights, principles like human dignity, or autonomy, or freedom.  Not quite rights in themselves, principles that capture the point of rights and they might animate constitutional argument even if they are not, strictly speaking, included as such in a list of rights.   

In short, “human rights” are meant to include a much wider set of claims than “constitutional rights.”   Our Schmooze this year will consider how the rights in any particular constitutional order are almost always a subset of possible rights and often grounded historically or philosophical in ideas that extend beyond purely constitutional argument.