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Constitutions and Constitutionalism




Admissions requirements

Sovereignty & Statehood
Legal Methods Lab is strongly recommended, but not compulsory.


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 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 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 affect 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 “compacts”. 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 context of contemporary forms of multilevel and multistakeholder governance.

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.
    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, and globalization.


Once available, timetables will be published in the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

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


  • General participation (including pop-quizzes); Goals 1 and 2; ongoing weeks 1-7 (16%)

  • Constitutional debate leadership; Goals 3, 4, and 5; weeks 1-7 (17 % for the debate; 17% for the write-up)

  • “Paper pitch” on the topic of the case study; Goals 3, 4, and 5; weeks 6/7 (10%)

  • Written case study essay; Goals 3, 4, and 5; due in week 8 (40%)

Please note:

  • In accordance with article 4.8 of the Course and Examination Regulations (OER), within 30 days after the publication of grades, the instructor will provide students the opportunity to inspect their exams/coursework.

  • There is a no re-sit policy at Leiden University College.


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 to be purchased by students:

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

Course textbooks available via Leiden Library and Blackboard:

  • 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)

  • Mauro Bussani and Ugo Mattei (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Comparative Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

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

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

  • Aalt Willem Heringa, Constitutions Compared: An Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (4th edition, Antwerp: Intersentia, 2014)

  • Kaarlo Tuori, European Constitutionalism(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

  • 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)


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


Dr. Joris Larik