On 20 November 2013, Professor Tom Ginsburg presented several chapters from his forthcoming edited volume (co-edited with Alberto Simpser of the University of Chicago), Constitutions in Authoritarian Regimes, at the Constitutional Transitions & Global and Comparative Law Colloquium. Ginsburg is Leo Spitz Professor of International Law at the University of Chicago Law School.
The chapters Ginsburg presented address the questions of whether constitutions in authoritarian regimes matter, and if so, how and why they matter. To investigate these questions, he conducted a sweeping study of past and present constitutions, coding them as authoritarian or democratic using a set of measures known as the Unified Democracy Scores (UDS). He then looked at various design features of those constitutions, including their levels of specificity (the number of topics included in the text, and at what length they are discussed) and the rights enumerated in the text. Ginsburg’s study found that historically, the majority of constitutions have been authoritarian, but democratic constitutions have been on the rise in recent years, peaking in 2008 at 44% of constitutions.
The colloquium discussion focused on the design of Ginsburg’s study, including his explanation of how he chose to construct it, and suggestions from the audience for how to design future studies of a similar kind. The audience also offered their thoughts on what Ginsburg’s findings tell us about countries emerging from or sliding back into authoritarianism, and how authoritarian leaders design constitutions in order to entrench their own power and protect themselves once they are out of power. Several countries were repeatedly referenced as examples during the discussion, including Chile, China, Hungary, India, Mexico, Myanmar, and Poland.
The last session of the Constitutional Transitions & Global and Comparative Law Colloquium, on 4 December, will feature Professor Ran Hirschl of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.