Constitutional Guides and Reforms

International Bridges for Justice (IBJ) has given me numerous opportunities to study and compare how human rights are protected in different legal systems. Over the course of my first assignment, in which I researched almost a dozen constitutions and legal systems, I recognized that many legal principles in the United States unsurprisingly also exist worldwide. For instance, prohibitions against retroactive application of the law, double jeopardy, and cruel and unusual punishment found in the U.S. Constitution are commonplace in constitutions around the world and tend to exist in some form in many legal systems.

However, Mexico's Constitution particularly impressed me because in Article 1 of the Mexican Constitution, the Mexican people appeared to codify a canon of interpretation requiring that the Mexican Constitution and international law be interpreted so that they work "in favor of the broader protection of people at all times." Although my assignment did not require any corresponding case law research to see if and how this legal provision has been applied, I found it to be really forward-thinking because many people assume the the meaning of constitutions is self-evident and that a jurist's job is simply to carryout the obvious. Nonetheless, this is far from the truth. Constitutional law can be amorphous and difficult to grasp. Often jurists in a position where they are given a starting point, but where they go from there is unclear. This provision in Mexico's Constitution can help jurists grapple with the inherent ambiguity in constitutional law by giving them a starting point (basic substantive rights) and an end point, "the broader protection of people." Hence, jurists' tasks become a bit easier because now they know where they are going, they just need to connect the dots. Hence, as moral/ethical standards evolve, Mexican jurists can cite to old provisions with this canon of interpretation as a guide and a touchstone. Even though Mexican courts may not use this provision to support legal decisions, it still provides a strong example of a guide I would include in my ideal constitution.

In addition, I also noticed in my research that other countries (not the United States) have had several constitutions over the course of their history. On the other hand, the United States has kept the same basic constitutional structure since 1789 and made amendments overtime (the most recent amendment occurring in 1992). Constitutional continuity for most Americans is central to American identity. Nonetheless, there is some evidence that at least one American founder potentially disagreed with this notion. For example, in a famous letter, Thomas Jefferson proposed that the U.S. Constitution should be revamped "every nineteen or twenty years" and that it is up to each generation to make "periodic repairs." Considering the traditional amendment process is burdensome--due to the fact it requires supermajorities in state and/or federal institutions--constitutional conventions may be appealing to younger generations that want to build upon rights protected in the United States Constitution or codify major supreme court decisions in the U.S. Constitution. Although I agree with this sentiment and would like to see moral advancement in constitutional jurisprudence, for instance, a national prohibition on the death penalty (and the elimination of any language that would contradict this provision in the Double Jeopardy and 14th and 5th amendment Due Process clauses); I realize political context matters greatly to any constitutional convention. In these turbulent political times, imagine if #notmypresident morphed into #notmyconstitution as a post-convention twitter trend. To be clear, I absolutely concede that many aspects of the Constitution, like the electoral college, may be archaic, and should probably be replaced with an instant-runoff voting system or some other system; however, I also realize there may be growing issues with political polarization that needs to be considered before any constitutional convention takes place to preserve the legitimacy of the body politic. Hence, timing matters.

This is my first blog post, hence, I need to conduct some house-keeping matters. I intend to conduct this blog so that I am reflecting on political and legal topics I come across in my work. My publications may tend to have a United States-centric bend, however, I will not hold myself to that. Since this is an informal blog, I will not be using a formal citation method, however, I will include links to direct readers to relevant sources to provide context for what I am writing. I apologize for not posting earlier, but I hope the quality and frequency of my posts going forward can make up for it.