Princeton University Shield Princeton University

Kim Lane Scheppele

Woodrow Wilson School
415 Robertson Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544

What Makes Constitutions Work?

Functioning, written constitutions have only been widespread in the world in the last half century and, even now, more constitutions fail than succeed. What happens to constitutions under stress, when they are challenged by forces that might destroy them? Since the collapse of state socialism in Eastern Europe, I have been trying to answer this question by doing fieldwork Hungary and Russia, two countries with new constitutions but with very different levels of constitutional entrenchment. I have also focused attention on the role of constitutional constraints in the aftermath of attacks which catalyze a powerful urge to shortcut safeguards and rights, for example, in the global war on terror. Some countries have infringed civil liberties and abandoned separation of powers more than others. With both new constitutions and emergency constitutions, survival despite adversity depends on the extent to which constitutional ideas have spread to and are supported by politically engaged populations. Constitutions that work, then, are not left just to the lawyers and they are not just legal documents. Constitutions must also have a life in popular consciousness or else they cannot have a life as law.

Selected Publications: 

“Constitutional Ethnography: An Introduction” 38(3) Law and Society Review 389-406 (2004). 

“A Realpolitik Defense of Social Rights.” 82(7) University of Texas Law Review 1921-1961 (2004). 

“Law in a Time of Emergency: States of Exception and the Temptations of 9/11.” 6(5)University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law 1001-1083 (2004). 

““Aspirational and Aversive Constitutionalism: The Case for Studying Cross-Constitutional Influence through Negative Models.” 1(2) I-CON (International Journal of Constitutional Law) 296-324 (2003). 

“The Agendas of Comparative Constitutionalism.” 13(2) Law and Courts 5-22 (2003).