Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Deadline: September 15–Call for Papers–Symposium on “When is a Constitutional Amendment Illegitimate?”–National University of Singapore–March 19-20, 2020

The National University of Singapore Faculty of Law
Centre for Asian Legal Studies

in collaboration with the

The University of Texas at Austin

invite submissions for

Symposium on “When is a Constitutional Amendment Illegitimate?”

The National University of Singapore (NUS)
Faculty of Law
March 19-20, 2020

Convened by

Jaclyn Neo (NUS)
Kevin Tan (NUS)
Richard Albert (Texas)

Submissions are invited from early-career scholars—including post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and faculty whose full time appointment was no longer than five years ago—for a symposium on “When is a Constitutional Amendment Illegitimate?,” a foundational question at the center of the study of constitutional change.

Convened by Jaclyn Neo (NUS), Kevin Tan (NUS), and Richard Albert (Texas), this symposium will be held on the historic campus of The National University of Singapore Faculty of Law on March 19-20, 2020. It is the intention of the conveners to publish a selection of papers in a peer-reviewed edited volume with an academic press.

Subject-Matter of the Symposium

There has recently been an explosion of scholarship interrogating whether constitutional amendments can be unconstitutional. This is not just an academic inquiry—courts all over the world in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas have engaged with and, at times, applied the doctrine of unconstitutional constitutional amendment to check political actors seeking substantially to change the constitution. This area of inquiry raises critical questions about the relationship between legality and legitimacy. Indeed, a central pillar of the unconstitutional constitutional amendment doctrine is that a procedurally valid amendment is nonetheless illegitimate. Constitutionality, in these cases, therefore becomes tied to ideas about legitimacy.

However, legitimacy is a complex and multidimensional concept. Fallon, for instance, points to three forms of legitimacy: legal, sociological, and moral. Legitimacy has also been conceptualized as rightfulness, appropriateness, and more. While legality is only one criterion for legitimacy, it is by no means the only one. For this reason, one may even envisage an illegal constitutional amendment as legitimate. The Ackermanian theory of constitutional moments suggests the possibility of constitutional amendment through formally illegal procedures that are legitimated by overwhelming expressions of popular approval. Along the same lines, the Fifth French Republic has lived its own encounter with illegality—the 1962 referendum on direct presidential election using Article 11 instead of Article 89 to amend the Constitution—in the face of which the Constitutional Council declined to exercise jurisdiction to evaluate the claim that the amendment had been illegal.

In addition, one may conceptualize certain amendments as legitimate by one criterion and illegitimate by another. Besides the possible dissonance among the legal, sociological, and moral dimensions of legitimacy, it is also possible that legitimacy depends on which theory or vision of the constitution to which one is committed. Accordingly, the question of legitimacy of constitutional amendments is one that bears closer examination.

This Symposium invites submissions that go beyond current inquiries focused on the judicial doctrine of unconstitutional constitutional amendment to explore other questions and controversies that the practice of constitutional amendment raises for the concept of legitimacy. Many questions present themselves for inquiry. For instance, where reformers have turned to formally illegal procedures to amend the constitution, how have they been able to validate these amendments as legitimate, or not? How have competing conceptions of legitimacy of constitutional amendments been resolved or otherwise? What do we mean by legitimacy and how is it measured—and by whom—in your jurisdiction(s) under study.

Comparative studies are welcome, as are single-jurisdiction studies. Preference will be given to submissions that do not take a court-centric approach, that deprioritize the well-known American and French cases, and that shed new and needed light on this subject.

Structure of the Symposium

This symposium will feature a small number of papers. Each paper will be the focus on an intensive workshop involving all symposium participants. The purpose of this structure of the program is to devote significant time to each submission in order to prepare it for submission for peer-review and ultimately for publication. All symposium participants will have read all submissions prior to the program in order to facilitate a robust and constructive discussion on each submission.


Submissions are invited from various disciplines (including history, law, political science, sociology). Submissions are welcomed on any subject related to the subject-matter of the program identified above. Submissions may take comparative, doctrinal, empirical, historical, philosophical, sociological, theoretical or other perspectives.

Submission Instructions

Interested scholars should submit a title and abstract no longer than 500 words by September 15, 2019 via this link. The abstract will form the basis of the pre-conference draft (no longer than 10,000 words (all notes included)) to be submitted by 4pm, New York time, on March 1, 2020 in both Word and PDF formats.


Successful applicants will be notified no later than October 31, 2019.


There is no cost to participate in this symposium. Group meals will be generously provided by organizers. Limited funding may be available for successful participants.


Please direct inquiries in connection with this Symposium to:

Jaclyn L. Neo (NUS):

Kevin YL Tan (NUS):

Richard Albert (Texas):

About the Convenors

Richard Albert is the William Stamps Farish Professor in Law and Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Author of Constitutional Amendments: Making, Breaking, and Changing Constitutions (Oxford University Press, 2019), his scholarship on constitutional change has been translated into Chinese, French, Hungarian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. He has held visiting faculty appointments at Yale University, the University of Toronto, the Externado University of Colombia, and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. He holds law and political science degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Harvard and is a former law clerk to the Chief Justice of Canada, where he was born and raised.

Jaclyn L. Neo is an Associate Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore (NUS). She is a graduate of NUS Faculty of Law, and Yale Law School. She is the sole editor of Constitutional Interpretation in Singapore: Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2017) and co-editor of Pluralist Constitutions in Southeast Asia (Hart, 2019), and Regulating Religion in Asia: Norms, Modes, and  Challenges (CUP 2019). Jaclyn has also served as a guest editor for the Singapore Academy of Law Journal, the Journal of Law, Religion, and State, the Journal of International and Comparative Law, and the Journal of Comparative Law. Her work has been cited by the Singapore courts and the Supreme Court of India. Jaclyn has held visiting faculty appointments at the Cluster of Excellence ‘The Formation of Normative Orders’ at Frankfurt University, University of Münster, University of Trento, Melbourne Law School, and will be appointed to the Princeton faculty for the fall semester of 2019.  

Kevin YL Tan specializes in Constitutional and Administrative Law, International Law and International Human Rights. He graduated with an LLB (Hons) from the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore and holds an LLM and JSD from the Yale Law School. He currently holds Adjunct Professorships at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore (NUS) as well as at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) where he teaches constitutional law, international law and international human rights. He has published widely in his areas of specialization and has written and edited over 40 books on the law, history and politics of Singapore. From 1998-2000, he was Chief Editor of the Singapore Journal of International and Comparative Law and from 2000-2003 was the journal’s Adjunct Editor. He has also served previously as Editor-in-Chief of the Asian Yearbook of International Law (2010–2017) and is currently Executive Editor of the Asian Journal of Comparative Law (since 2016) and Editorial Board member of the Korean Journal of International and Comparative Law (since 2013). Kevin also serves on the Board of Governors of the Human Rights Resource Centre (HRRC).


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