Polarized Constitutionalism

Polarized Constitutionalism Workshop, July 24-25, 2023

Event Photos

On July 24th and 25th, scholars and academics gathered in Oxford, England with a dedicated purpose: to lay the definitive foundations for a special issue of Law & Ethics of Human Rights. Ideas were refined, key themes were clarified, and perspectives were aligned over two days of engaged discussion.

This workshop focused on the concept of polarized constitutionalism, with considerable thought towards the world’s current state of polarization and methods for overcoming society’s ideological rifts. Iddo Porat, associate professor of law at the College of Law and Business in Israel, explained that polarization has increased dramatically in recent years, and that all corners of the globe have been negatively impacted by the result. Both Mark Tushnet, William Nelson, professor of law emeritus at Harvard Law School, and Moshe Cohen-Eliya, founder of the International Society of Public Law, discussed how this shift is propagated by the way much of society has integrated their political leanings, policy opinions, and party affiliations into their self-concept. 

“What we see is that ideology has turned into an identity,” said Cohen-Eliya.

This intimate connection between individuals and their political views has, according to workshop participants, magnified the animosity that is deepening the divides of polarization. 

Brett Scharffs, director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, remarked, “One thing that has been interesting is not just the division but the intensity.”

Worldwide polarization to the sides of the political spectrum has led to legal system confidence ratings hitting an all time low, as Deborah Pearlstein, co-director of the Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy, described. The workshop’s participants discussed this topic at length. One key point addressed by Dana Anderson, director of the legal department the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was how the lack of representation in national courts has contributed to drops in confidence ratings among minority groups. 

Many case studies regarding the impact of polarization on nations throughout the world were cited over the course of the workshop. While it is evident that we are in a difficult era of ideological division, there is reason to believe that it can be overcome. The special issue of Law & Ethics of Human Rights is set for publication in 2024.