April 25, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 14

current issue
archive / search

    Constitutional law will be foundation of center initiated by Nussbaum

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    The concerns of groups and individuals who have traditionally been marginalized or subordinated in societies––ethnic, racial and religious minorities, women and the poor––will be the primary focus of a new Center for Comparative Constitutionalism being developed at the Law School.

    The center’s activities will include an examination of the extent to which different regimes of constitutional law contribute globally to the dignity, equality, responsibilities and integration of such disenfranchised groups, said Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law & Ethics in the Law School, who has initiated the creation of the center.

    “With rapid globalization, the pressures of the global economy and new ties across national boundaries, the structures through which states define and implement rights are shifting,” explained Nussbaum.

    Earlier this year, Nussbaum received a Grawemeyer Award in Education from the University of Louisville for her book Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reforming Liberal Education. She will use her $200,000 award as seed money for the new center.

    The center will be a collaborative effort between University scholars and those from other educational institutions to study the ways in which societies attempt to secure constitutional rights for their citizens.

    “Many nations give religious groups special roles or extend special rights to ethnic, gender or caste-based groups,” said Nussbaum. “We want to look at whether those rights can actually rectify longstanding inequalities. And because the rights operate in the context of the modern regulatory state and economy, we need to consider not only legislatures and courts but also administrative agencies and corporations.

    “Another concern will be the role of the legal profession and its academic discourse. In some nations, the legal profession has been a serious force for social change. However, in others, it is merely seen as a civil service career and people have little confidence in its ability to implement rights,” Nussbaum explained.

    Joining her as members of the board at the center are faculty members Jacob Levy, Assistant Professor in Political Science; Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School; Geoffrey Stone, the Harry Kalven Jr. Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School; and Iris Young, Professor in Political Science.

    Faculty members will launch the Center for Comparative Constitutionalism on Tuesday, May 14, with a lecture at the Law School given by Mark Tushnet, the Carmack Waterhouse professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University Law Center. Tushnet will present “State Action, Social Welfare Rights and the Judicial Role: Some Comparative Observations.” Panelists who will discuss Tushnet’s lecture are Epstein; Saskia Sassen, the Ralph Lewis Professor in Sociology and the College; Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School and the College; and Young.

    In the fall of 2003, the center will host a conference on religion and the state, comparing nations that have systems of religiously based “personal law” with nations that protect religion in other ways. Scholars from Asia, Africa, Latin America and various European nations will examine the relationship between religious laws and such legal goals as sex equality, due process, and religious liberty and nondiscrimination.