UCL Faculty of Laws


Online | Constitutional Essentials. On the Constitutional Theory of Political Liberalism

06 November 2023, 1:00 pm–3:00 pm

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This seminar is organised by the UCL Public Law Group

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About the Paper

Is the constitution ideally "legal" or "political"? "Written" or "unwritten"? How thick or thin are its principles and guarantees? Where does constitutional fidelity fit among liberal political virtues? What of "restraint" in the conduct of judicial constitutional review, or "originalism" in constitutional interpretation? These are questions raised by lawyers in constitutional-democratic societies throughout the world.

In Constitutional Essentials: On the Constitutional Theory of Political Liberalism, Michelman not only raises these questions but explains why these debates persist in modern day constitutional democracies. Through the lens of John Rawls' seminal work Political Liberalism, Michelman responds to the problems governments of constitutional-democratic societies face from deep-lying disagreement among citizens. Rawls' suggested one solution: a "constitution," one that included a bill of rights-that all, despite other disagreements, could accept. Michelman explains Rawls' proposal, placing it within a duality of functions -"regulatory" and "justificatory" - for which, he says, lawyers in constitutional-democratic societies typically look to their countries' bodies of constitutional law.

A close examination of the constitution-centered proposition on political legitimacy, this book will be valuable reading to academics in the fields of politics, philosophy, and law.

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About the Speaker

Image of Frank Michelman
Frank I. Michelman is an American legal scholar and the Robert Walmsley University Professor, Emeritus at Harvard Law School. He clerked for Justice William Brennan of the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1961 Term and, in 1962, he joined the Harvard Law School faculty. He served as vice-president of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy 1994–1996 and as its president, 1998–2001 and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a past Co-Director of the annual Prague Conference on Philosophy and Social Science, and has served on the Board of Directors of the United States Association of Constitutional Law and the National Advisory Board of the American Constitution Society. In 2005, Professor Michelman was awarded the American Philosophical Society's Phillips Prize in Jurisprudence which honoured Michelman's significant contributions to the field of jurisprudence, and, in 2004, the Brigham-Kanner Property Rights Prize. In October 2007, Frank Michelman was a Distinguished Visitor at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany. Among Professor Michelman’s numerous influential publications are "Property, Utility and Fairness: Comments on the Ethical Foundations of 'Just Compensation' Law" Vol. (80)6, April 1967, Harvard Law Review, pp. 1165–1258; Foreword: Traces of Self-Government, 100 Harvard Law Review 4 (1986); Law’s Republic, 97 Yale Law Journal 1493 (1988); Brennan and Democracy (Princeton University Press 1999); "The Constitution, Social Rights, and Liberal Political Justification," 1 International Journal of Constitutional Law 13 (2003); Frank Michelman & Alessandro Ferrara, Legitimation by Constitution (OUP: 2012; Constitutional Essentials: On the Constitutional Theory of Political Liberalism (OUP: 2022); and The Anti-Oligarchy Popular Constitution, American Journal of Law and Equality (2022) 2: 337–356.
About the Commentators

Commentators for this seminar include:

Image of Richard Bellamy
Richard Bellamy is a British philosopher and Professor of Political Science at University College London. He is known for his works on legal and political philosophy. Bellamy is a winner of the David and Elaine Spitz Prize for his book Political Constitutionalism: a Republican Defence of the Constitutionality of Democracy. In 2012 he was awarded the Serena Medal by the British Academy, given 'for eminent services towards the furtherance of the study of Italian history, literature, art or economics.'Bellamy has been the lead editor of the Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (CRISPP) since 2003. Among his recent publications are A Republican Europe of States: Cosmopolitanism, Intergovernmentalism and Democracy in the EU, Cambridge University Press, 2019 and Flexible Europe: Differentiated Integration, Fairness and Democracy, with Sandra Kröger and Marta Lorimer, Bristol University Press, 2022.

Image of Paul Craig
Paul Craig, FBA, is one of the foremost scholars on European law, constitutional and administrative law. He was Professor of English Law at the University of Oxford from 1998 to 2019, and is now emeritus professor and Fellow of St John's College. In 1998, he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) and was appointed an honorary Queen's Counsel on 3 May 2000. Paul Craig is a member of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute's International Council. He is the author of a number of legal textbooks the most well-known of which (EU Law: Text, Cases and Materials) was published in its 7th edition by Oxford University Press (2020). Among his recent publications are ‘Written and Unwritten Constitutions: The Modality of Change’ [2022] Pragmatism, Principle, and Power in Common Law Constitutional Systems: Essays in Honour of Bruce Harris 263; ‘Varying Intensity of Judicial Review: A Conceptual Analysis’ (2022) 2022 Public Law 442; and ‘The Rule of Law and EU: Responsibility, Independence and Rights’ [2023] The Rule of Law’s Anatomy in the EU. Foundations and Protections (Allan Rosas et al. eds.).

Image of Oliver Gersternberg
The event is chaired by Dr Oliver Gerstenberg who joined UCL in 2016. He is also Member of the Project Team on the European Law Institute (Vienna) on Fundamental Constitutional Principles of a European Democracy. Among his publications are "Euroconstitutionalism and Its Discontents (Oxford Constitutional Theory Series: 2018); Fundamental Rights and Democratic Sovereignty in the EU: The Role of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in Regulating the European Social Market Economy, Yearbook of European Law (vol. 39: 2020, pp. 199—227); and "The Constitution as a Law of Lawmaking. Reflections on Frank Michelman’s Constitutional Essentials, in: Philosophy and Social Criticism (forthcoming 2024), a shorter version of which will appear on the Balkinization blog (2023).


Image of Prof Jeff King
Jeff King has been Professor of Law at UCL, Faculty of Laws, since 2016. He is currently Director of Research at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and was between 2019-2021 a Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. He sits on the Editorial Committee of Public Law, the General Council of the International Society of Public Law (ICON Society), and is a member of the Study of Parliament Group. His book Judging Social Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2012) won the Society of Legal Scholars 2014 Peter Birks Prize for Outstanding Legal Scholarship, and in 2017 he was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize in Law. He is currently working on the use and abuse of delegated powers, comparative legal responses to Covid-19, and is writing a book on the social dimension of the rule of law. Among his recent publications are The Democratic Case for a Written Constitution, (2019) Current Legal Problems; The Province of Delegated Legislation (2020), The Foundations and Future of Public Law Essays in Honour of Paul Craig Oxford University Press, USA (King J., Fisher, E. & Young A (eds.); and The Cambridge Handbook of Constitutional Theory, forthcoming: 2024 Cambridge University Press.

Image of George Letsas
George Letsas holds a Chair in the Philosophy of Law at UCL and is an affiliate member of the Philosophy Department of UCL . He is author of A Theory of Interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights (OUP: 2009) and co-editor of Philosophical Foundations of Contract Law (OUP: 2014). He has written for the London Review of Books (LRB) and the Times Higher Education (THE). Among his recent publications are Proportionality as Fittingness: The Moral Dimension of Proportionality, in: (2018) Current Legal Problems (OUP); (2019) How to argue for law's full-blooded normativity. In: Plunkett, D and Shapiro, S and Toh, K, (eds.) Dimensions of normativity: new essays on metaethics and jurisprudence (OUP); Law and Polity: Some Philosophical Preliminaries', in International Journal of Constitutional Law I.CON (2019);  Offenses against Status, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Volume 43, Issue 2, Summer 2023, Pages 322–349; Balancing as a Legal Method: What It Is and How (Not) to Do It, in: Bezemek, Potacs and Somek (eds), The Vienna Lectures on Legal Philosophy, Forthcoming.
About the Group

The UCL Public Law Group is a community of scholars working in the field of public law, broadly understood. Our aim is to provide a supportive forum for the discussion and development of theoretical and doctrinal questions in constitutional theory, comparative constitutional law, human rights, judicial review, legal and political theory, and more. 

Read more about the group and its work.

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