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International Supreme Court and Constitutional Justices Meet at Yale Law School

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer had never missed a Global Constitutionalism Seminar, and he was determined that this year wouldn’t be the first time.

When illness prevented him from travelling to Yale Law School to take part in person, he arranged to attend by speakerphone. This year’s theme: Technological revolutions and their impact on fundamental values.

The fourteenth Global Constitutionalism Seminar took place at Yale Law School September 22 to 25, drawing fourteen sitting and former Supreme Court and Constitutional Court justices from eight countries as well as the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. The seminar is designed to promote international understanding of issues of constitutional law. Most sessions are closed, to create a confidential setting in which the justices can openly discuss their experiences and thoughts on legal issues.

In the past, Breyer has said the discussions have informed his opinions. “There are few problems today that are not global in scope,” he told the Yale Law Report in 2004.

The particular areas under discussion were “Freedom of Speech and Internet Intermediaries,” “Technology and the Laws of Armed Conflict,” “Surveillance and the Right to Anonymity,” “Organ Transplantation,” and “The Nation-State and the Boundaries of Its Laws.”

“One of the highlights this year,” said Professor Bruce Ackerman ’67, “was the way each concrete discussion illuminated the broad theme in unexpected ways, yielding real insights into the way technology is revolutionizing constitutional understandings across a broad front.”

Professors Ackerman and Jed Rubenfeld were co-directors of this year’s seminar. They took over for Robert Post ’77, Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law, whose duties as dean meant he had to give up overseeing the seminar.

The project was founded in 1996 by Paul Gewirtz ’70, Potter Stewart Professor of Constitutional Law and Director of The China Law Center at Yale Law School.

Students have a number of opportunities to meet the justices, but one of the highlights is the series of student-organized discussion sessions.

“It exposed students to a way of thinking about structures of the Constitution that we otherwise might not have a chance to see,” said Arpit Garg ’12, co-president of the Yale Law School chapter of the American Constitution Society. “To hear individuals of this level engaging one another was a unique opportunity.”

“The opportunity to interact with individuals at this level is one of the things that makes attending Yale Law School such a unique experience,” said Dan Feith ’12, vice president for events with the Yale Federalist Society.

“Yale pulls together so many different perspectives. To see these judges from different cultures and with varying points of view gave me a better appreciation for our own system,” said Feith.

The Yale Law School chapter of the American Constitution Society and Yale Federalist Society sponsored the discussion of “Dissent and its Limits.” Other student-run panels were “Beyond the State: The Constitution and Non-State Actors,” sponsored by the Yale Journal of International Law and Yale Forum on International Law; “Originalism and Beyond: Fundamental Choices in Constitutional Interpretation,” sponsored by the graduate students.

“Obviously, this opportunity to see some of the greatest legal minds in the world was just extraordinary,” said Feith.