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Constitutions and Constitutionalism




Admissions requirements

Required: Sovereignty & Statehood
Recommended: Legal Methods Lab


Constitutions, such as the U.S. Constitution or the Dutch Grondwet, are the highest laws within their respective countries. They establish the form of government, core institutions, and enshrine fundamental rights—in short, they constitute the polity in its essential characteristics. The idea of constitutionalism comes into play where they successfully create a separation of powers, ensure democratic legitimacy, and foster of rule of law culture. A thorough knowledge of constitutions and constitutionalism is thus key 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 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 takes students from the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, via modern national constitutions to the UN Charter, today’s complex “European Constitutional Space”, and multistakeholder outcome documents. It is about sets of rules and norms, often but not always codified, which claim supremacy within a particular political community. The course provides an introduction into constitutional law from a comparative and multilevel perspective, including national, regional and international dimensions. It traces the history of the idea of constitutional government, discusses essential elements and theories of constitutionalism, and analyses them in the contemporary context of multilevel and Multistakeholder forms of governance.

Course objectives

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

  • Describe the origins of constitutional government, its essential elements and different forms;

  • Explain central concepts, themes and theories within the field of constitutional law, including theories of “constitutionalism” and the role and functions of constitutional courts;

  • Compare and classify different constitutions according to their content, legal tradition and other core characteristics;

  • Interpret constitutional texts and use them to make “constitutional” arguments;

  • Demonstrate various ways in which constitutions have been affected by processes of regional integration, internationalization and globalization.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

The course uses a variety of teaching methods, including (interactive) lecturing, student presentations, class discussion, debate and legal case problems. Teaching materials include both primary (constitutional texts) sources and secondary readings.


  • General participation, ongoing (10 %)

  • Constitutional debate leadership, weeks 1-7 (20 %)

  • Oral presentation on the topic of the case study, weeks 1-7 (15 %)

  • Written case study essay, due in week 7 (3000 words max., including footnotes, excluding bibliography) (35 %)

  • Written examination with short/essay questions, week 8 (20 %)


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Course textbooks (accessible via Leiden University Library)

  • Mark Tushnet, Advanced Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014)

  • 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)

Generally recommended readings and research resources:

  • Larry Alexander (ed), Constitutionalism: Philosophical Foundations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

  • Roland Bieber and Pierre Widmer (eds), L’espace constitutionnel europeen / Der Europäische Verfassungsraum / The European constitutional area (Zurich: Schulthess, 1995)

  • S.E. Finer, Vernon Bogdanor and Bernard Rudden, Comparing Constitutions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

  • Günter Frankenberg, ‘Comparative constitutional law’ in Mauro Bussani and Ugo Mattei (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Comparative Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 171-190

  • Tom Ginsburg and Rosalind Dixon (eds), Comparative Constitutional Law (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2011)

  • Mark Tushnet, Thomas Fleiner and Cheryl Saunders (eds), Routledge Handbook of Constitutional Law (London: Routledge, 2013)

  • Armin von Bogdandy and Jürgen Bast (eds), Principles of European Constitutional Law, 2nd edition (Oxford: Hart Publishing/Munich: C.H. Beck, 2011)

  • Aalt Willem Heringa and Philipp Kiiver, Constitutions Compared: An Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (Antwerp: Intersentia, 2009)


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr. Joris Larik
Assistant Professor for Comparative, European and International Law
LUC Den Haag (AVB 301)
Anna van Buerenplein 301
2595 DG Den Haag
Room number 4.22