Kinder Institute: Who’s Responsible for Constitutional Rights

Treaty of Paris, Benjamin West

Kinder Institute: “Who’s Responsible for Constitutional Rights”


The Kinder Institute at the University of Missouri, a JMC partner program, will be hosting a virtual colloquium with JMC fellow Christina Bambrick on “Who’s Responsible for Constitutional Rights.” Professor Bambrick will examine cases from U.S. and South African courts in presenting her research on the tradeoffs and politics involved when constitutional rights are applied horizontally to create obligations of private actors:

“The choice to recognize a right comes with tradeoffs. A right to privacy might run up against national security, for example, or equality might run up against religious liberty. In much the same way, we may consider the tradeoffs involved when rights are applied “horizontally” to create obligations of private actors. What do constitutional framers and jurists stand to gain (for themselves or the polity) in holding private actors accountable for rights? Moreover, what might they lose in introducing new obligations to these traditionally-insulated spaces? This talk considers the tradeoffs of introducing horizontal rights in cases ranging from the United States to South Africa. The point of this exercise is not to be cynical or positivistic in accounting for rights protections, but rather to recognize that such constitutional choices result from diverse considerations and inputs specific to the place. The tradeoffs that may come in applying rights horizontally seem particularly steep, moreover, insofar as they implicate pre-political entities in constitutional projects. Focusing on horizontal rights thus offers a salient window into understanding the politics behind constitution-making and rights protections. Ultimately, a kind of Burkean lesson emerges, that rights relationships are not ready-made, but proceed from the particular debates, aspirations, and discourses of a place. While certain crucial rights may indeed be self-evident, in Jefferson’s perennial words, particular applications of rights are not devoid of choices and, therefore, of politics.”

Friday, November 13, 2020
A virtual event through Zoom

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Christina Bambrick is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. Her research and teaching interests range from American and comparative constitutionalism to republican theory and the history of political thought. Her publications include the articles, “Horizontal Rights: A Republican Vein in Liberal Constitutionalism,” in Polity in 2020, and “‘Neither Precisely National Nor Precisely Federal’: Governmental and Administrative Authority in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America,” in Publius: The Journal of Federalism in 2018. She is currently writing a book manuscript on the horizontal application of rights to non-state actors in comparative context. Before coming to Notre Dame, Professor Bambrick taught at Clemson University. She received her doctorate in Government from the University of Texas at Austin where she was recognized for Excellence in Teaching by the College of Liberal Arts.

Professor Bambrick is a JMC fellow.

Learn more about Christina Bambrick >>



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