Sujit Choudhry leads the new Center for Constitutional TransitionsOn March 30, scholars gathered for a symposium at the NYU School of Law to discuss the Turkish constitutional model and trajectories of Arab constitutionalism. The event marked the launch of the Center for Constitutional Transitions at NYU Law (Constitutional Transitions), which will provide research that is both relevant to scholars and of practical use to constitutional advisors in the field. Sujit Choudhry, Cecelia Goetz Professor of Law and faculty director of the new center, opened the symposium by noting that although constitutional change is a pervasive part of modern political life, scholars and advisors need greater research support to address these issues.

Bonnie and Richard Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law Samuel Issacharoff led the symposium’s morning panel on the development of Turkey’s constitution, pointing out that Turkey offers an example of the problems that nations can face as they build constitutional democracies in a post-authoritarian era. Asli Bali, from University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, spoke about the emergence of a new constitutional court and judiciary, while Ozan Varol, currently visiting at Chicago-Kent College of Law, argued that the military can play a democracy-promoting role and, in fact, can be considered a “fourth branch” of government. Turkuler Isiksel, a political scientist at Columbia University, raised the issue of “parchment barriers” and asked to what extent it is possible to liberalize a political system overseen by an authoritarian constitution.

Mohammad Fadel, Clark Lombardi, Chibli Mallat, Kevin Davis discuss the trajectories of Arab constitutionalismKevin Davis, Beller Family Professor of Business Law at NYU Law, led the symposium’s afternoon session. Clark Lombardi, from the University of Washington School of Law, raised questions of institutional design for regimes that constitutionalize sharia law and discussed the benefits and costs of different approaches. University of Toronto Faculty of Law Professor Mohammad Fadel took on the deeply contested subject of pre-modern Islamic law in the modern Egyptian legal system, and offered a solution for producing a body of national law that is cognizably Islamic. Finally, Chibli Mallat, who holds positions at S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah and at Saint Joseph’s University in Lebanon, spoke about what he called the “constitutional moment”—the point when paradigms move away from authoritarianism across the region to constitutionalism. One complicating factor for the current revolution, Mallat noted, is that the individual in the Middle East “is forced or chooses to mediate his relationship to the state through the sect he belongs to.”

Constitutional Transitions is already moving beyond the purely academic realm. Choudhry says that in the fall, a group of about 20 NYU Law students will staff a clinic to produce just-in-time research for countries in the midst of change. And he announced that Constitutional Transitions has already secured its first client – the Middle East and North Africa office of Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). This summer, Constitutional Transitions’ first group of NYU Law interns will be based at International IDEA’s office in Cairo.

Posted April 9, 2012