May 14, 2021 - International law scholars described how COVID-19 has challenged all political systems, discussing to what extent it has resulted in the sidelining of national legislatures, fostering more decision-making by presidential administrations in a recent discussion presented by the University of Houston Law Center's Initiative on Global Law and Policy and the University of Bologna Center for Latin American Studies.
"COVID-19 and Trends on Constitutionalism: A Comparative Approach" was the sixth and final event in the "Constitutionalism, Trade, Social Justice, and Sustainability in the Americas: Lessons from the 2020 Global Pandemic," series, which was co-organized by GLPA founding director Elizabeth Trujillo, the Law Center's Mary Ann & Lawrence E. Faust Professor of Law, and Sabrina Ragone, a Professor of Comparative Law at the University of Bologna. The American Society of International Law-Latin America Interest Group and the Jean Monnet Module CRISES (“Critical Risks for Integration and Solidarity in the European Space”, funded by the European Commission) served as a co-sponsors.
University of Chicago Law School Professor Tom Ginsburg was the event's keynote speaker, while Sabrina Ragone was the discussant, and James Gathii of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, an expert on African constitutionalism and human rights, served as moderator.
In his remarks, Ginsburg challenged the traditional notions of expansion of executive power and automatic sidelining of domestic parliaments, providing contrary examples from all continents. Furthermore, he also stressed the role of subnational and local governments in pushing back against national policies.
"We have several examples in the COVID crisis where the existing legal framework actually was not sufficient to deal with the problem quickly and effectively," Ginsburg said. "Perhaps there were points when the law ran out. In the analysis, one cannot be strictly formalist in this regard and say that the requirement of legality should necessarily keep the government from taking necessary measures. Nevertheless, some autocrats have abused the COVID crisis for their own benefit, and put countries at risk of a democratic backslide."
In Ragone’s corresponding comments, she spoke about how the pandemic has exposed or strengthened existing trends such as inequalities in society, the limitation of rights and freedoms and the impact on forms of government and political systems.
"This emergency has opened new debates on executive power, new debates on the role of parliaments and new debates on the coordination between the state and decentralized – federal and regional - entities," Ragone said. "It has re-opened a debate on the principle of solidarity at the domestic and supernational levels.
"If we look at the statistics concerning the most affected groups it becomes clear. In terms of constitutionalism and constitutional design, this needs to be taken into account. The impact of the pandemic has spanned traditional rights, social rights and economic rights, from the freedom of movement, religious freedom, the right to health, the right to education up to freedom of enterprise. We have also witnessed a clear personalization of politics. Every solution has been connected to a politician, even when it was a collective or collegial decision. We have seen a new relationship and connection between expertise and politics.”
The series had over 150 registrants and attendees from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the U.S.
More information on the speaker series, "Constitutionalism, Trade, Social Justice, and Sustainability in the Americas: Lessons from the 2020 Global Pandemic," can be found below: