Sujit Choudhry, University of Toronto Law School and NYU Law School

Rethinking Comparative Constitutional Law

Mon, 11/03/2008
4:30-6 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall
Event Category: 

We hope you will join us as we welcome two world-class comparative constitutionalists: Sujit Choudhry, Scholl Chair of Law at the University of Toronto and Global Visiting Professor of Law at NYU Law School, and commentator Christina Murray, LAPA Fellow and Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law at the University of Cape Town (South Africa). The paper under discussion will be “Rethinking Comparative Constitutional Law.”

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Kerstetter Room, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.


Sujit Choudhry's book excerpt argues that comparative constitutional law has largely focused on the "rights revolution" in which courts around the world have developed an overlapping jurisprudence of rights interpretation. But Choudhry believes that narrow focus on rights misses much of what constitutions are called upon to do. He explores another agenda for comparative constitutional law, focusing on the role of constitutions in the competitive nationalisms of divided populations. After providing an account of the political sociology of nationalism, Choudhry examines why comparative constitutional law has been so blind to the particular problems of " plurinational places." He uses the example of rules governing constitutional amendments in Sri Lanka, Iraq and Canada to show how constitutions might exacerbate or ameliorate plurinational conflict.

Sujit Choudhry holds the Scholl Chair at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, and is cross-appointed to the Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts and Science, the School of Public Policy and Governance, and the Department of Health Management, Policy and Evaluation in the Faculty of Medicine. For Fall 2008, he is a Global Visiting Professor of Law at the NYU Law School. He is a Member of the University of Toronto Centre for Ethics and Joint Centre for Bioethics. He holds law degrees from the University of Oxford, the University of Toronto, and the Harvard Law School, as well as an undergraduate degree in Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology from McGill University. Professor Choudhry's principal research and teaching interests are Constitutional Law and Theory, and Health Law and Policy - and he has also written on the law's response to ethnocultural difference. His many law review articles have appeared in both Canadian and American law journalsm, and he is a contributor to Canadian Constitutional Law (3rd ed., 2002). Professor Choudhry is currently working on a book, Rethinking Comparative Constitutional Law, from which his LAPA seminar paper is taken. He frequently provides constitutional advice to a broad range of public sector and private sector organizations, and is extensively involved in public policy development. He was a consultant to the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada (the Romanow Commission) and the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (the Naylor Committee), the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank Institute at the World Bank, and the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. He has also worked with the Forum of Federations in Sri Lanka, the Canadian Bar Association in Nepal, and was an intern at the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa and the World Health Organization in Geneva. He has been involved in litigation on behalf of detainees in the "war on terror" and has appeared as counsel for Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Toronto in the Almrei, Charkaoui and Harkat appeals.

Christina Murray is a LAPA fellow this year and is Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law at the University of Cape Town. Before coming to Princeton, she was Head of the Department of Public Law and Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty. Between 1994 and 1996, she served on a panel of seven experts advising the South African Constitutional Assembly in drafting South Africa’s ‘final’ Constitution. Since then, most of her work has focused on constitution making, constitutional design and the implementation of new constitutions. In South Africa, most of this work has been with the national treasury (implementing the fiscal elements of the new decentralized system of government) and with the national Parliament and nine provincial legislatures. She has also advised other nation’s constitutional development processes, including Kenya, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Southern Sudan, Bolivia and Nepal. Among her most recent published work is a book, edited with Michelle O’Sullivan, Advancing Women’s Rights: the first decade of democracy (2005) and papers on traditional leadership, federalism and international relations in South Africa, the executive under South Africa’s constitution, and ethnicity in South Africa’s constitutional design. At Princeton, Murray will be writing a book on constitution-making processes from a comparative constitutional law perspective.