Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

In Memoriam: Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson

Brian Ray, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University

Arthur Chaskalson, the first President and Chief Justice of the South African Constitutional Court died on December 1, 2012.  Many have highlighted the remarkable and courageous role he played in the anti-apartheid movement, including his defense of Nelson Mandela and others during the infamous Rivonia trials. The New York Times wrote that Justice Chaskalson’s career in many ways mirrored Justice Thurgood Marshall’s because Justice Chaskalson founded the Legal Resources Center—South Africa’s first public-interest law firm that was modeled on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund—to fight apartheid before joining the Court.

An equally apt analogy is Chief Justice John Marshall’s role transforming the U.S Supreme Court.  With the help of an extraordinary group of fellow justices, Justice Chaskalson established the new Constitutional Court as an independent institution in post-apartheid South Africa and the new Constitution as a tool for protecting human rights and limiting government power.  As Justice Chaskalson himself described it when he retired from the Court in 2005, in its early days the Constitutional Court had “no judges, no jurisprudence, no building and no traditions.” He literally built the Court and played a leading role in all of tje pathbreaking decisions that developed the Court’s well-deserved reputation both domestically and internationally.


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