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Constitutions and Constitutionalism


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

Sovereignty and Statehood


Constitutions, such as the U.S. Constitution or the Dutch Grondwet, are the highest laws within their respective political communities. They establish the form of government, core institutions, and enshrine fundamental rights—in short, they constitute a polity in its essential characteristics. The idea of constitutionalism comes into play where constitutions successfully create a separation of powers, ensure democratic legitimacy, and foster a rule of law culture. A thorough knowledge of constitutions and constitutionalism is indispensable for working within any legal system.

Increasing internationalization, globalization, and in some parts of the world, regionalization, have also left their mark on constitutions and the idea of constitutionalism, and on the way we understand and use constitutional texts. This includes, fundamentally, the question whether states are the only entities capable of having constitutions.

This course traces the history of the idea of constitutional government, discusses essential elements and theories of constitutionalism, and analyses them in the context of contemporary forms of multilevel and multistakeholder governance. It takes students from the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, via modern national constitutions and regional integration projects from around the world to the UN Charter. The course, moreover, critically reflects on the usefulness of constitutionalism in a transnational environment marked by profound changes and transformations.

Course Objectives

After successful completion of the course, students are able to, in terms of knowledge:

  • Goal 1: describe the origins and evaluation of constitutional government, its essential elements and different forms;

  • Goal 2: explain central concepts, themes and theories within the field of constitutional law, including theories of “constitutionalism” and the role and functions of constitutional adjudication and review.

After successful completion of the course, students are able to, in terms of skills:

  • Goal 3: interpret constitutional texts and case law and use them to make “constitutional arguments”.

  • Goal 4: compare and classify different constitutions according to their content, legal tradition, and other core characteristics;

  • Goal 5: analyse various ways in which constitutions have been affected by processes of regional integration, internationalization, globalization, and transnationalization.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course uses a variety of teaching methods, including lecturing, class discussions and exercises, student-led debates, and legal case problems. Teaching materials include both primary sources (such as constitutional texts and court judgments) and secondary literature.

Assessment Method

  • General participation (including pop-quizzes); Goals 1 and 2 (15%)

  • Constitutional debate leadership; Goals 2, 3, 4, and 5 (18% for the debate; 18% for the write-up)

  • “Paper pitch” on the topic of the case study; Goals 2, 3, 4, and 5 (14%)

  • Written case study essay; Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 (35%)

Reading list

Course textbook to be acquired by students:

  • Mark Tushnet, Advanced Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (2nd edition, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2018), ISBN: 9781786437204

Course textbooks available online via Leiden Library:

  • Michel Rosenfeld and András Sajó (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

  • Jeffrey Dunoff and Joel Trachtman (eds), Ruling the World? Constitutionalism, International Law, and Global Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Links to further compulsory readings and additional reading recommendations will be provided on Brightspace.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. J.E. Larik: