Students Hear From Judges Around the World at Global Constitutionalism Seminar

Yale Law School’s Global Constitutionalism Seminar celebrated its 20th anniversary this September. Since 2011, the Global Constitutional Seminar has been a part of the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women's Rights.

Each year, the Seminar welcomes justices of constitutional and transnational courts for a three-day long private seminar based on a volume of readings, prepared in advance.

In conjunction with the Seminar, Yale Law School asked some of the Justices to join panels open to students at the law school. This year, the student panels were on the topics of Gender and Judging; Constitutional Law and the Academy; and Constitutional Decriminalization: Drugs, Sex, and Death.  

Gender and Judging, moderated by Judith Resnik, the Arthur Liman Professor of Law who also chairs the Global Constitutional Seminar, invited reflection on how gender has influenced each of the justices’ careers, both before and after going on the bench. The panel also addressed how their courts respond to questions related to gender and equality. The Justices discussed how they either remain one of very few women on higher courts or have been joined by others on their apex court. Thus, they addressed both the changing numbers of women on the bench and the level of courts on which these women sit. The justices also took up how and when equality claims have altered legal interpretation and shaped new rights. Commenting were current or former members of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Constitutional Court of Italy, the Supreme Court of New Zealand, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Justice, and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Constitutional Law and the Academy welcomed students considering becoming academics or judges and asked panelists who have had careers in the legal academy and on courts to reflect on the role of academic law in adjudication. The panel was moderated by Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law, and by Gordon Silverstein, the dean in charge of Yale Law School’s Graduate Programs. Commentators from this panel discussed the impact of scholarship on their courts, and when and how scholars are understood to make useful contributions. Commenting were current or past members of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, the Supreme Court of Israel, and the Constitutional Court of Colombia.

Constitutional Decriminalization: Drugs, Sex, and Death, moderated by Dean Robert Post, featured a discussion on how constitutional provisions have been used in different contexts to prohibit the criminalization of certain behaviors and practices. Provided on the web were examples of cases from many jurisdictions, such as “Cannabis Case” (Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, 1994), S v. Jordan and Others (Constitutional Court of South Africa, 2002), Lawrence v. Texas (Supreme Court  of the United States, 2003), and "Decriminalization of Drug Possession for Personal Use Case" (Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, 2015). The panelists considered what constitutional principles – such as dignity, privacy, and family life – and methods of interpretation and doctrines were relevant to these questions. Panelists included current and former members of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, the Supreme Court of the United States, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, and the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. 

"These student panels remind us how so many legal issues and challenges, from access to justice to protecting human rights, are shared among countries and between jurisdictions,” said Eric Chung ’17, a student organizer for the event. “Students have repeatedly told me how formative and inspiring these sessions are for reflecting upon the various lenses and perspectives through which justices think about the same legal questions around the world."

The Global Constitutionalism Seminar is a signature international program of Yale Law School, dating back to 1996.  Four volumes of the past reading materials are available on the website