Law 717: Comparative Constitutional Design


The catalyst: Law and political science professor Donald Horowitz is an expert on constitutional design for severely divided countries. He recently worked on the transitional constitution of South Sudan and has published a book on Indonesia’s transition from an autocracy to constitutional democracy. “The best courses are usually the ones that mesh with the instructor’s own interests,” he says. “[This course] is the subject matter of my research…. It’s something I have been working on for decades, really.”

The gist: Horowitz wants students to understand that there are many different kinds of  government and that “standard Western democratic institutions” will not work around the world. “Americans tend to be very heavily focused on one particular country—that is our own country,” he says. “This should widen horizons of a great many students about what the choices are out there.”

The twist: Horowitz will spend the semester at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, meaning the majority of the course will be taught by videoconference to students at the law school. Horowitz will travel to Duke for the first two and final two classes, allowing his students to develop a connection they might not otherwise. “Without any in-person introduction, I think it would be much harder for them,” he says.

Assignment list: The class will draw on current materials from countries around the world. “I have it in mind that students will read the Libyan election law translated into English,” Horowitz says. “That’s not an opportunity you are going to have in too many other classes.”

What you missed: There will be plenty of probing discussion of countries involved in the Arab Spring. Horowitz plans to ask students questions such as: “If you were making a new constitution in Tunisia or Egypt, would it be a good idea to make the constitution or have the elections first?” And as recent events bear out, even nations struggle with that one.


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