Symposium on Founding Moments in Constitutionalism
Yale Law School
April 15-16, 2016
This Symposium is convened by Richard Albert (Boston College/Yale Law School) and Menaka Guruswamy (Yale Law School).
About the Symposium
Founding moments are landmark events that break ties with the ancien regime and lay the foundation for the establishment of modern states. Founding moments shape national law, influence surrounding countries, establish future power structures and legitimize certain political institutions within the country.
But what exactly is a founding moment? When do we know the “founding” process is over and when do we know it is ongoing? Is it possible to have a founding moment without a new constitution? It is not always easy to identify and define founding moments. The establishment of a new constitutional identity is almost never encompassed in one event—and may span decades in the form of anti-colonial movements, revolutions, civil wars, legitimation crises, power struggles and consolidation processes.
Founding moments sometimes endow certain elements in society—such as revolutionary parties or political leaders—with political legitimacy. A key line of inquiry therefore concerns the relationship between founding moments and “founding figures,” and the extent to which the future of a nation should be guided by the intentions of those who orchestrated these founding moments.
Founding moments moreover are not always a single moment. How does a revolution relate to and influence the promulgation of the constitution? How does the promulgation of the constitution trigger crises in the consolidation process? Is there some danger to the revolutionary fervor being entrenched in words, symbolism and structures in a country’s written constitution?
We might also consider the phenomenon of unfinished foundings, which occur when revolutionary groups overthrow a dictator but not the entire “old guard.” To what extent is an event a founding moment if it is a partial or an unfinished revolution? How do such unfinished foundations influence the identity of the country?
Alexander Herzen described revolutions and national foundings as “pregnant widows”:
The death of contemporary forms of social organization should gladden rather than oppress the soul. But what’s frightening is that the departing world leaves not an heir but a pregnant widow. Between the death of one and the birth of the other much time will go by, a long night of chaos and desolation will have to pass.
Some though not all founding moments occur at tumultuous times in a country’s history. They are bloody revolutions, fierce anti-colonial struggles and decades-long political upheavals. Countries undergoing founding moments—“pregnant widows” in Herzens words—should not be studied only as historical events but also as modern realities that influence and indeed often drive our understanding of law. From Egypt, Libya, Iraq to Nepal, countries around the world are undergoing the birth pangs of founding, constitution and reconstitution—they are waging civil wars, mounting revolutions and writing constitutions.
This conference on founding moments in constitutionalism is an opportunity to address this phenomenon and how it relates to our understanding of law.
Submissions are invited from scholars of all ranks, including doctoral students.
The Convenors intend to publish the papers in an edited book or in a special issue of a law journal. An invitation to participate in this Symposium will be issued to a participant on the following conditions: (1) the participant agrees to submit an original, unpublished paper ranging between 8,000 and 11,000 words consistent with the submission guidelines issued by the Symposium Convenors; (2) the participant agrees to submit a pre-Symposium draft March 30, 2016; and (3) the participant agrees to submit a full post-Symposium final draft by September 1, 2016.
Interested scholars should email biographical information and an abstract of no more than 500 words by Monday, December 21, 2015 to Nishchal Basnyat (email@example.com) on the understanding that the abstract will form the basis of the pre-Symposium working draft of a minimum of 3000 words to be submitted by Monday, March 30, 2016. Scholars should identify their submission with the following subject line: “Yale Law School—Abstract Submission—Founding Moments.”
Successful applicants will be notified no later than January 15, 2016.
There are no costs to participate in this Symposium. Successful applicants are responsible for securing their own funding for travel. Arrangements will be made for a special rate at a local hotel.
Please direct inquiries in connection with this Symposium to:
Associate Professor, Boston College Law School
Visiting Associate Professor, Yale Law School
Yale Law School
About the Convenors
Richard Albert is an Associate Professor at Boston College Law School and, in 2015-16, a Visiting Associate Professor of Law and Canadian Bicentennial Visiting Associate Professor of Political Science at Yale University. A specialist in comparative public law with a focus on formal and informal constitutional amendment, he has since December 2014 been Book Reviews Editor for the American Journal of Comparative Law, which awarded him the Hessel Yntema Prize in 2010 for “the most outstanding article” on comparative law by a scholar under the age of 40. He is also a member of the Governing Council of the International Society of Public Law, an elected member of the International Academy of Comparative Law, an elected member of the Executive Committee of the American Society of Comparative Law, and a founding co-editor of I-CONnect, the new scholarly blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law. Prior to joining the faculty of Boston College Law School, Albert served as a law clerk to the Chief Justice of Canada and earned degrees from Yale, Harvard and Oxford.
Dr. Menaka Guruswamy is a Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School. She also practices law at the Supreme Court of India where she has litigated a number of significant constitutional rights cases. Her cases include those that successfully sought reform of public administration and the bureaucracy in the country (TSR Subramanium and Ors v Union of India and Ors), defending federal legislation that mandates that all private schools admit disadvantaged children (the Right to Education Act), and litigating against Salwa Judum—state sponsored vigilante groups in Chhattisgarh. She has also challenged the constitutionality of the colonial-era sodomy law in India.
Dr. Guruswamy studied law as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, a Gammon Fellow at Harvard Law School, and at the National Law School of India. Her doctorate from Oxford University is on constitution-making in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. She has been visiting faculty at Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law. Dr. Guruswamy has been a consultant to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in New York, UNICEF in South Sudan and the Government of India. She has also supported the constitution-making process in Nepal. Her most recent publication is a chapter on ‘Crafting Constitutional Values: An Essay on the Supreme Court of India’, (in An Inquiry into the Existence of Global Values, Hart Publishing/Bloomberg: (2015).