NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 87, Number 3

June 2012
Articles

The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution

David S. Law, Mila Versteeg

It has been suggested, with growing frequency, that the United States may be losing its influence over constitutionalism in other countries because it is increasingly out of sync with an evolving global consensus on issues of human rights. Little is known in an empirical and systematic way, however, about the extent to which the U.S. Constitution influences the revision and adoption of formal constitutions in other countries.

In this Article, we show empirically that other countries have, in recent decades, become increasingly unlikely to model either the rights-related provisions or the basic structural provisions of their own constitutions upon those found in the U.S. Constitution. Analysis of sixty years of comprehensive data on the content of the world’s constitutions reveals that there is a significant and growing generic component to global constitutionalism, in the form of a set of rights provisions that appear in nearly all formal constitutions. On the basis of this data, we are able to identify the world’s most and least generic constitutions. Our analysis also confirms, however, that the U.S. Constitution is increasingly far from the global mainstream.

The fact that the U.S. Constitution is not widely emulated raises the question of whether there is an alternative paradigm that constitutional drafters in other countries now employ as a model instead. One possibility is that their attention has shifted to some other prominent national constitution. To evaluate this possibility, we analyze the content of the world’s constitutions for telltale patterns of similarity to the constitutions of Canada, Germany, South Africa, and India, which have often been identified as especially influential. We find some support in the data for the notion that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has influenced constitution making in other countries. This influence is neither uniform nor global in scope, however, but instead reflects an evolutionary path shared primarily by other common law countries. By comparison, we uncover no patterns that would suggest widespread constitutional emulation of Germany, South Africa, or India.

The Forgotten History of Foreign Official Immunity

Chimène I. Keitner

The immunity of foreign officials from legal proceedings in U.S. courts has drawn significant attention from scholars, advocates, and judges in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Samantar v. Yousuf, which held that foreign official immunity is governed by the common law rather than the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The common law of foreign official immunity, which the Samantar Court did not define, operates at the intersection of international and domestic law, and it implicates the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches. Conflicting visions of the substance and process of common law immunity have already emerged following the Samantar opinion and will continue to compete until the Supreme Court revisits this issue in a future case. At stake is not only the ability of suits to proceed against foreign officials, but also the relationship between the executive branch and the judiciary in matters affecting foreign affairs.

The original research into eighteenth-century practices presented in this Article yields two important observations. First, claims that defendants acted in their official capacities did not automatically bar adjudication on the merits: Foreign officials who were neither diplomatic officials nor heads of state were on the same “footing” as “every other foreigner” with respect to their “suability.” Second, the Executive believed that it did not have constitutional authority to instruct courts to dismiss private suits on immunity grounds. Although twenty-first century advocates might make policy arguments for blanket immunity or absolute executive discretion, such choices are not consistent with—let alone compelled by—the eighteenth-century practices and understandings recovered here.

Lectures

Statutes

The Honorable Robert A. Katzmann

Madison Lecture

In his James Madison Lecture, Judge Robert A. Katzmann argues that federal courts have much to learn from Congress and agencies about how statutes should be interpreted. In the voluminous discussion of how courts should construe statutes, there has generally been little consideration given to an appreciation of how Congress actually functions; how Congress signals its meaning; and what Congress expects of those interpreting its laws. In examining that lawmaking process, Judge Katzmann looks to how legislators signal their legislative meaning to the first inter- preters of statutes—agencies—and to how agencies regard Congress’s work product in interpreting and executing the law. He contends that Congress intends that its work be understood through its institutional processes and reliable legisla- tive history. In our constitutional system in which Congress is charged with enacting laws, the methods by which Congress makes its purposes known—through text and reliable accompanying materials—should be respected, lest the integrity of legislation be undermined. Agencies well appreciate and are responsive to Congress’s perspective that such materials are essential to construing statutes. By understanding statutory interpretation as an enterprise involving other institutions, we can better address the question of how courts ought to interpret statutes. Against that background, Judge Katzmann examines two approaches to the judicial inter- pretation of statutes—purposivism and textualism—and concludes with a discus- sion of practical ways in which Congress may better signal its meaning and how courts may better inform Congress of the problems courts identify in the statutes they review.