Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

ICON Volume 20, Issue 3: Editorial


Desk rejections

I know the feeling. It has happened to me more than once, twice and thrice. “They didn’t even send it to peer review?!*&%#@.” On one occasion it was subsequently published in another journal and is one of my most cited pieces!

Regrettably, neither I•CON nor EJIL has the human resources to send a fully reasoned letter to authors in all cases of desk rejections. We therefore want to set out here and explain the procedure at these Journals that results in a desk rejection.

Context is important. Both I•CON and EJIL publish around 60-70 articles a year. This means that we receive many good articles that we are unable to publish. It also means that each decision to publish is, in some ways, at the expense of another article that we will not be able to publish. There is, thus, a “zero-sum game” involved, at least in the back of our minds. We mention this to emphasize that we are doubly aware of the importance to our authors and to the journal of these decisions, and they are never taken lightly.

Every single article received is read by at least two persons: one of the Associate Editors (all of whom are in various stages of advanced study, some are already established academics) and one of the Editors-in-Chief. We allocate the reading task on the basis of subject-matter proximity to the expertise of the readers. In many cases, the article is also read by another Associate Editor or the other Editor-in-Chief, either because the article caught their eye or because the responsible editor had doubts and asked others to read along. Thus, when the monthly editorial meetings open with the agenda item “screened articles,” between two and five members of the editorial team discuss each piece.

In cases of highly specialized fields or when we feel we might not be familiar with the latest research, not infrequently we turn to a member of the Advisory Board of the Journal or an external expert for help in the screening decision. If perplexities remain, we send the piece to peer review.

Which factors are brought to bear in the screening decision? These can be divided into “curatorial” and “editorial” decisions. I•CON and EJIL are journals of general interest in public law and international law, respectively. One curatorial aim is to make each issue of interest to as a broad a readership as possible—meaning that all of our subscribers and readers will hopefully find in each issue at least one or more pieces of interest and from which they may profit. So, on occasion (not frequently), we see very good articles which, however, we might consider “too specialized” and more fitting for a specialized journal, bearing in mind, too, the zero-sum game. We may have published, to give another example, in the last two years a couple of articles partially covering similar ground. That might weigh against publishing a third piece so soon afterwards. There are no hard and fast rules here, but I think our authors will understand that we cannot altogether avoid some curatorial considerations in our screening decisions.

“Editorial” decisions go to the quality of the submission. In our screening deliberations and decisions, we are acutely aware that we are not infallible and that there might be both false positives and false negatives. However, editors cannot outsource the responsibility to screen and select by sending everything to peer review. Peer reviewing is a precious and scarce resource, especially since we expect our peer reviewers to write a thorough and reasoned report rather than a brief conclusory statement. We use our best judgment and our accumulated experience, and if the team decides that the quality of the article is such that it will not in its present form pass peer review, we will decide on a rejection. Common examples of such might be failure to deliver on the promises announced at the beginning of the article, insufficient engagement with existing relevant literatures, obvious methodological weaknesses, especially in the increasingly popular empirical studies, and, finally, plain and simple: poor organization and writing. We habitually see submissions with true promise but which are rushed and, in our view, prematurely submitted. It is, we believe, always advisable, where possible, to have a piece “workshopped” once or twice before submission.  Frequently, when we spot an article with a lot of promise, but which in our judgment will not pass peer review as it stands, we write to the author with our reservations and encourage that person to work further and submit the piece at a later stage. Quite a few pieces eventually published in both journals initially fell into this category.

JHHW, with GdeB and SMHN

In this issue

The issue comprises several individual articles, a Symposium on Covid-19 and social inequalities, a Special Section on Small States, and no less than six book reviews.

The Articles section begins with two articles that look at the European Court of Human Rights. Veronika Fikfak argues “against settlement before the European Court of Human Rights”, and Alain Zysset examines how the ECtHR has responded to populism. An article by Orit Fischman Afori follows, in which the author revisits the approach of global administrative law in relation to “online giants and the digital democratic sphere.”

The next articles deal with various questions around constitutions. Carolyn Moser and Berthold Rittberger discuss how the European Union and particularly its Court of Justice have been involved in processes of (de)constitutionalization. David Kershaw explores the nature of prerogative power of the Monarch—a text that looks far back in history, and is also timely. Raffael N. Fasel investigates the constraints for constituent conventions, building on the thought of Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès. Finally, Gonçalo de Almeida Ribeiro asks: “What is constitutional interpretation?” and Cristóbal Caviedes argues in favor of supermajority rules in constitutional adjudication.

In the Special Section on Small States, Caroline Morris examines anti-defection laws in three small jurisdictions: Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands. Her assessment of these rules in the three South Pacific parliaments is, in her words, a cautionary tale. Maartje De Visser and Elisabeth Perham elaborate on insights from the small state experience regarding variables that shape participatory constitution-making.

In the Critical Review of Jurisprudence Section, Kenny Chng compares trends in the UK and Singapore regarding the treatment of ouster clauses.

The “Academic Stories of Covid-19 and its Unequal Impacts” Symposium is introduced by Gráinne de Búrca and Dana Schmalz, and begins with framing articles by Marcela Prieto Rudolphy and Jaclyn Neo. Prieto Rudolphy lays out how predictably, and yet perplexingly, the pandemic has reinforced gender inequalities. Neo proposes, in light of the pandemic experience, a constitutionalism of care. These articles are followed by a number of shorter “stories” that discuss experiences around Covid-19 and inequalities. The stories contributed by Clare Williams, Ada Fama, Gertrude Amorkor Amarh, Lorenzo Gasbarri, Gabriela Rondon/Debora Diniz/Juliano Zaiden Benvindo, Pedi Obani, Jernej Letnar Černič and Alice Margaria span various jurisdictions and issues, ranging from parenthood, to (dis)abilities, and to constitutional litigation regarding access to vaccines.

In the Book Review Section, readers will find a review by Benedetta Barbisan of a book by Diletta Tega, in Italian, on recent developments in the Italian Constitutional Court. Ondřej Kadlec reviews Cristina E. Parau’s Transnational Networking and Elite Self-Empowerment. The Making of the Judiciary in Contemporary Europe and Beyond. The next review, by Marten Zwanenburg, examines Amichai Cohen’s and David Zlotogorski’s Proportionality in International Humanitarian Law: Consequences, Precautions, and Procedures. Margaret K. Lewis reviews the volume edited by Weitseng Chen and Hualing Fu on Authoritarian Legality in Asia: Formation, Development and Transition. Brendan Edgeworth reviews Rachael Walsh’s book on “Property Rights and Social Justice”. The issue closes with Tom Gerald Daly’s review of Mark Tushnet’s The New Fourth Branch: Institutions for Protecting Constitutional Democracy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *