Ran Hirschl Discusses Voluntary Judicial Reference to Foreign Sources at Final Session of 2013 Colloquium

On 4 December 2013, the Constitutional Transitions & Global and Comparative Law Colloquium featured Ran Hirschl, Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of Toronto, where he also holds a Canada Research Chair in Constitutionalism, Democracy and Development.

The piece Hirschl presented for the Colloquium is a chapter of his new book, Comparative Matters: The Renaissance of Comparative Constitutional Law, forthcoming this year from Oxford University Press. The selected chapter, “The Politics of Foreign Citations in Discordant Constitutional Settings,” discusses voluntary judicial reference to foreign sources, and the capacity and role of these references in shaping political identity in transitional or disconcerted constitutional settings. Hirschl first outlines empirical findings on foreign citations and examines what they may tell us about how and why constitutional courts engage with comparative constitutional law. The chapter then explores detailed patterns of foreign reference in Israel—“a perfectly situated” constitutional jurisdiction for the chapter’s discussion.

During a well-attended colloquium session, the conversation explored both the political settings within which judicial references to foreign law take place, and the ways in which individual judges’ worldviews or core philosophies may impact their choices to reference foreign law, and their selection of jurisdictions to reference. Hirschl’s comments during the colloquium emphasized his argument that more than anything else, the foreign references that peak courts in discordant constitutional settings select, reject or ignore reflect the judicial position vis-à-vis the nation’s contested collective identity quandaries. In other words, voluntary reference to foreign precedents in disconcerted constitutional settings is “at least as much a political phenomenon as it is a juridical one.”

Professor Hirschl’s presentation marked the final event in the Constitutional Transitions Colloquium for the 2013-2014 academic year.

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