Sujit Choudhry: Research Meets Action in Creating & Updating Constitutional Law Around the Globe

Monica Gewirtz
Aug 1, 2018 · 4 min read

For the world’s foremost authority on comparative constitutional law and politics, scholar Sujit Choudhry manages to spend a lot of time putting into action the ideas for which he puts pen to paper. Choudhry has published over 100 articles, journals, book chapters and reports, but even with his wide-ranging research agenda, the educator manages to spend a great amount of his time in the field. Choudhry has been a constitutional advisor for over two decades, spoken in over two dozen countries, and as the current Director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions, has overseen the processes for constitutional building in countries like Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and South Africa; his most recent consultations leading round table discussions with the world’s top constitutional experts and the Ukrainian government in Kiev to examine the country’s semi-presidential system of government and its constitutional challenges.

Research Agenda

Choudhry’s early research topics throughout the ’90s included reviews in health and social sciences, from end of life decision-making to consent and hospital policies. The scholar’s global ideas expanded in 1999, the political landscape producing polarizing ideas and need for guidance in formatting new principles in which to govern countries in turmoil or in periods of change. In one of his first dips into the realm of comparative constitutional law, Choudhry made the case for comparing societies, defining the practice as the necessity of weighing “what we want to include, and what we want to avoid” by using the constitutions from other countries as the first tool in a self-assessment (“Globalization in Search of Justification: Toward a Theory of Comparative Constitutional Interpretation,” Indiana Law Journal, 1999). Choudhry went on to pave the way for new ideas in comparative constitutional law, authoring and editing premiere works in the study with “Constitutional Theory and the Quebec Secession Reference” and Unwritten Constitutionalism in Canada: Where Do Things Stand?” in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

Choudhry’s pivot to constitutional law at the turn of the century was really a foreboding moment for the examination of the practice, as his expertise in the study coincided with his work in the field. During his tenure at NYU Law, Choudhry not only taught Comparative Constitutional Law, but created a center to deploy students and colleagues to post-conflict countries that were grappling with their own constitutional issues; and during this time wrote a significant amount on changing governments in the Arab Spring.

Choudhry has since published a slew of works in the area, including Constitutional Design for Divided Societies: Integration or Accommodation?, and is currently leading global research projects in the realm of new constitutions, writing policy manuals for constitutional transitions and producing policy recommendations and oversight in the convoluted aftermath of the Arab Spring, with recommendations in holding governments accountable and preventing backslide in young democracies.

Field Expert

In 2003, Choudhry and a team of constitutional experts traveled to Sri Lanka with a proposal in a federalist solution to the country’s conflict. He supported constitutional negotiations in Nepal in 2007 and 2010 aimed at redesigning a more stable judicial system. His involvement in public policy continued in 2010 through the uprising in the revolutionary wave of demonstrations, protests, riots, coups, foreign interventions, and civil wars in North Africa and the Middle East that began the “Arab Spring,” the civilian-led revolution that toppled regimes throughout the region. The revolution led to the formation of new, young democracies but not without contentious battles and struggles for power that remain today along with the result of large-scale conflicts, like civil war in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Choudhry’s work here continues, and likely will for decades to come — the so-called “Arab Winter” is the aftermath, and only the uprising in Tunisia has resulted in a transition to constitutional democratic governance.

Choudhry’s range of experience in the field includes: facilitating public dialogue sessions, leading stakeholder consultations, performing advisory work with technical experts, training civil servants and bureaucrats, engaging party leaders and parliamentarians, and drafting technical reports and memoranda in the field. Choudhry’s advisory work in the Middle East and North Africa in the aftermath of the Arab Spring has been diligent and prolific, but building the framework for these countries governance and social codes that account for each country’s unique history will take decades.

Most recently, Choudhry has taken his expertise to the table in Ukraine, leading workshops in Kiev with the world’s top advisors to review constitutional reforms. The main agenda in these discussions centered around outlining improvements for Ukraine’s semi-presidential governance system. Choudhry summarized factors that chip away at stability: weak political parties, a concentration of powers in the presidency, a poor electoral system for legislature, and a separation of powers between the Prime Minister and the President, among others. Choudhry’s draft report on constitutional reforms is currently being reviewed by the Constitutional Commission of Ukraine.

Center for Constitutional Transitions

As the current director for the Center for Constitutional Transitions, Sujit Choudhry aims to “generate and mobilize knowledge in support of constitution building.” The team at CCT works to assemble international experts — the Center for Constitutional Transitions has worked with over 50 experts from more than 25 countries — to produce evidence-based, comparative policy options for decision-makers and agenda-setting research around the world, in partnership with multilateral organizations, think tanks, and NGOs. The decades of research coupled with Choudhry’s vast experience in the field perfectly suits the mission of the CCT, examining the agendas being placed in front of younger democracies against comparative constitutional law practiced around the world.

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