When Constitutional Theories Migrate: A Case Study

36 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2017 Last revised: 25 Aug 2020

See all articles by Claudia Geiringer

Claudia Geiringer

Victoria University of Wellington School of Law

Date Written: July 17, 2017


The last decade or so has witnessed a burgeoning of literature on the role of cross-jurisdictional influences in the design (as well as subsequent interpretation) of national constitutions. The consensus emerging from that literature is that transnational borrowing in the course of constitutional making is both inevitable and impossible. In a globalized world, those involved in the design of a new constitution naturally look beyond their borders for inspiration. Borrowing is thus endemic. But borrowing, in any true sense, is also impossible because in the process of migration, constitutional ideas must be de- and then re-contextualized in order to fit them for the new legal system.

What, though, if the object of transnational influence is not a constitutional text or an institutional mechanism but, rather, a scholarly theory? That is the question addressed by this article. Specifically, the article examines the intriguing (and little known) story of how John Hart Ely’s representation-reinforcing theory of (American) constitutional interpretation was transformed into a blueprint for the design of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. It suggests that Ely’s journey to the South Pacific has the potential to illuminate both the study of constitutional migration generally and, more specifically, the linkages between comparative law and constitutional theory.

Keywords: John Hart Ely, constitutional migration, constitutional borrowing, comparative law, comparative constitutional law, process theory, New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, constitution making, constitutional theory

Suggested Citation

Geiringer, Claudia, When Constitutional Theories Migrate: A Case Study (July 17, 2017). American Journal of Comparative Law, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3004259

Claudia Geiringer (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington School of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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