Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Conversation with the Chief Justice of the South African Con Court

Drew Cohen recently published A Constitution at a Crossroads: A Conversation with the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights.  The interview covers transformative constitutionalism (including judicial transformation and the role of judges) and current constitutional issues in South Africa, with some background and context for the uninitiated.  It's a terrific piece on the current and future state of South African constitutionalism; it has some gems on comparative constitutionalism, as well.

Cohen, a contributor to U.S. News & World Report and The Huffington Post, is a former foreign law clerk to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, whom he interviewed for this piece.

Here's a clip of the Chief Justice's response to Cohen's question whether South African judges should be "umpires":

Given our background and our Constitution, judges do not have the luxury to sit back and pretend that we do not have serious challenges, which can be addressed through a passive justice system.  I do not think we can afford to be the type of umpires Chief Justice Roberts had in mind.

Whatever we, as judges, do must facilitate nation-building so far as the case makes it possible by actively addressing the socioeconomic challenges that still confront certain sectors of the community as well as addressing the position of women in every sector of our society.  Whereas that may not be feasible for judges in the U.S., it must [be the case] in South Africa.  We have a different set of challenges that require judges to be somewhat proactive in the manner in which they approach their judicial responsibilities.

On the use of foreign law:

Once our jurisprudence gets settled, once it gets to the point that everyone can say that it is fairly well developed, there will be very little reason to rely as much as we used to on the jurisprudence of other countries.  With that said, obviously, we will still need to have some regard to the latest developments in comparable jurisdictions.  This is particularly true with regards to the area of socioeconomic rights and property law.

On closing the gap between reality and an aspirational Constitution:

What the Court can do, however, is interpret the Constitution in a manner so as to ensure that every official who has a constitutional responsibility to close that gap . . . are held accountable.

I think that the Court, however, has done fairly well in its efforts to close that gap.  Look at our judgments dealing with socioeconomic rights[,] . . . health issues[,] . . . housing[,] . . . natural resources . . . .

On the next big issues:

The next major court battles will involve the agricultural sector.  If you look at the agricultural sector then you will realize that a very large percentage of commercial farmers are still those from the previously advantaged group[] . . . .  For the few [previously disadvantaged] that have received land through the government's redistribution system, it does not look like enough was done to empower them to be able to use the land productively.  So, I think a lot needs to be done in the area of land redistribution but this must occur in a very, very slow and careful process.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2014/04/a-conversation-with-the-chief-justice-of-the-south-african-con-court.html

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