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HOW DOES THE U.S. CONSTITUTION TRANSLATE OUTSIDE “THE LAND OF THE FREE AND HOME OF THE BRAVE?”

Professor of Law and Sociology Kim Lane Scheppele traverses the globe to help other countries develop constitutions and find solutions to constitutional crises. At present Scheppele is based in Russia, where she is examining the development of “constitutional consciousness”, as the country undertakes legal reforms. She also studies other constitutional systems for clues on how to improve American laws.

Back home at Penn Law, Scheppele has taught a course on Constitutional Drafting. The course starts with the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention and proceeds through European constitutional development from the French Revolution to the Russian Constitution of 1993. So, no one is better equipped to answer this question: How does the U.S. Constitution translate to other countries, especially to those without a history of democratic government?

“I’m not a big fan of the idea that the American Constitution can be exported in its details. America’s constitutional history is very specific and very unusual in international perspective and the structures of American government represented in the American constitution are very much a product of their time and place. Would we really want to export the unwieldy and complicated and under-defined structure of national government that we have? The American constitution has by and large worked well for the United States, but that may have been because (given our many political-cultural similarities to Britain), we might well have done without a written constitution at all. Only our system of judicial review really seems to require the written text; otherwise political institutions are so loosely defined that they have been able to change crucially over time under the same written plan. Powers of the branches ebb and flow as politics change; the American constitutional text is itself consistent with a presidentialist regime as it is with a parliamentarist one.

 
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