Judicial Review and the Athenian 'Constitution'

24 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2010 Last revised: 31 Mar 2010

Date Written: February 19, 2010


This paper examines the judicial procedures for reviewing legislation in classical Athens and argues that we can discern from these sources a coherent theory of the Athenian “Constitution.” I argue that prosecutors consistently attempted to depict the challenged statute as a threat to the basic democratic legislative or adjudicative process. This suggests that the legal review of statutes was understood as a means of preserving popular decision making structures rather than enforcing substantive values. From a modern perspective, classical Athens offers an interesting alternative model of a highly democratic form of “judicial review” in which constitutional precommitments were limited and constitutional challenges were adjudicated by large juries of ordinary citizens. Far from taking issues out of the realm of popular decision making, judicial review in Athens was quite limited in scope and focused on preserving the key democratic political values: the citizenry’s lawmaking power, and the jury’s wide power to adjudicate disputes.

Keywords: Judicial Review, Athens, Athenian courts, graphe paranomon

Suggested Citation

Lanni, Adriaan, Judicial Review and the Athenian 'Constitution' (February 19, 2010). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 10-21, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1555858 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1555858

Adriaan Lanni (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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