We Should Be Open To Learning From Other Constitutions | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Christina Bambrick during a Newsweek podcast debate on the U.S. Constitution. You can listen to the podcast here:

To take a kind of comparative perspective, there are a couple of types of constitutional provisions that you see in other countries that you don't see in the United States. One is called limitations clauses and, simply put, there are statements and constitutions that acknowledge that rights can be limited. And just to take an example, we have the freedom of speech in the United States, but our speech can't incite imminent lawless action. It's not unlimited, it's not absolute—despite our "rights dialect," as Mary Ann Glendon would put it, or our culture of "rights-ism," as Jamal Greene has put it.

So honestly, I do think this kind of a concession or provision, or just even stating that rights can be limited in our Constitution, could have some pedagogical value. It might not actually change the way we do things or the fact that legislation can limit rights, but it could just serve as a statement to Americans who tend to interpret rights absolutely that we can't abandon politics.

The US Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
The US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on December 4, 2021. DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

We can't abandon political processes, even though you may hold certain rights dear. I think that can be of great value. There's another thing that you often see in other constitutions, which are called "horizontal rights." Basically, the point is that private actors can potentially be responsible for constitutional rights obligations. So typically, we think about government actors only as being responsible for upholding your freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, but more and more other countries are applying these rights horizontally—so that now, private actors are responsible for constitutional rights, as well. And it's not to say we have to import this into U.S. constitutionalism, but it is to say that maybe some understanding of duties between citizens could serve us well.

We put a lot of emphasis on rights, which is great. And I think it's part of our history, but I do think that there's space to supplement that "rights talk" with something more.

Christina Bambrick is assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.