Sujit Choudhry: Speaker and Renowned Lecturer, Working Internationally Across Cultures


The Center for Constitutional Transitions is one of the most reputable organizations that shares knowledge and support for constitutional construction. Director Sujit Choudhry is a notable authority figure on constitutional law and politics. He has traveled to 30 countries to speak about related topics, and has served as a constitutional adviser in countries such as Libya, Tunisia, Ukraine, Egypt, and Nepal. With a work background that spans more than two decades, Choudhry has been exposed to a broad range of issues, such as political violence, ceasefires, and public discussion facilitation. His experience took him to meetings with key politicians, government organizations, technology companies, and many other entities. From drafting reports to developing engagement strategies, Choudhry's background includes nearly every facet of constitution building. He has a unique ability to apply his knowledge to multiple countries, cultures, and governments with insightful suggestions.

Sujit Choudhry was born in Delhi, India, and grew up in Toronto, Canada. His parents encouraged him to nurture his intellectual abilities by keeping the radio on CBC and having him read several newspapers each day during his childhood. His parents were both professors and inspired their children to follow in their footsteps. His father was an economics professor at the University of Toronto and his mother taught nursing classes. After Choudhry's brother grew up and finished college, he became a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Although Choudhry started as a pre-med student at McGill University, he developed an interest in law after he spent a summer interning at a bioethics center. He later attended Oxford University and earned a bachelor's degree in law in 1994. Mr. Choudhry earned another law degree from the University of Toronto in 1996, and finished his graduate degree in law at Harvard Law School in 1998. One year later, he began working as a professor at the University of Toronto. He gained tenure there in 2004 and was a top-rated professor. His students often left class feeling inspired and excited about constitutional law.

Knowledge Spanning Multiple Culture

Since Choudhry has knowledge about constitutional law and related political events in different countries, he often writes insightful opinion pieces. He has weighed in on several important topics across the globe, from the potential Catalan secession to Canadian constitutional issues.

Choudhry on Catalonia

The topic of secession in Catalonia was a hot-button issue last year. With the collaborative effort of several other constitutional law scholars, Choudhry wrote an open letter to the Spanish and Catalan governments about Catalonia's crisis. In it, he encouraged the two governments to find common ground and start a conversation. The experts hoped that the governments would find ways to act in good faith and have civilized discussions about important constitutional topics. They implored Catalonia's president to show his commitment to the democratic process. According to Choudhry and his colleagues, Catalonia's president could demonstrate such a commitment by holding a referendum on secession. If the referendum reflected the desire of the people to secede, the experts encouraged the president to implement its results under the Spanish constitution. Since many Catalan people supported secession, the legal experts also asked Prime Minister Rajoy to consider the desires of the Catalan people. Also, they encouraged him not to take actions to suppress the people’s ability to peacefully voice and demonstrate their opinions.

Choudhry and his colleagues said that in holding the referendum, it was also necessary to help the people realize the difficulties of a secession and its impact on Spain's constitutional order. They encouraged both governments to agree on a constitutional settlement, and said that the settlement should recognize the rights of both sides. In the letter, they also reminded the two governments that a peaceful agreement would benefit them both and would help lead to a resolution to the larger dispute. As Choudhry pointed out, the European Union's foundation would be undermined without a peaceful agreement. At the beginning of October in 2017, Spain took negative actions. It used forceful measures to prevent Catalonia from hosting its referendum, which heightened tensions even more. As the experts said, similar situations in the past had worse outcomes. However, the Catalan declaration of independence was postponed, which the experts said was a good move by Puigdemont. Much of the confusion arose from the mixed opinions of the Catalan people. While many called for secession and independence, a considerable number expressed doubts about the success of Catalonia's future after a secession.

Choudhry and his colleagues said that Spain's government did everything that it could to prevent Catalonia's voters from showing up to vote. Although it was unclear what the majority of the Catalan people wanted without a strong voter turnout, the experts asserted that the people should work together toward a new solution. They said that the government should determine what the solution would be, and ensure the implementation of accurate, fair, and democratic policies. According to the letter, Prime Minister Rajoy did not show adequate concern for the Catalan people and their wishes. This was evident when he attempted to repress the referendum. Choudhry and the others let him know that his behavior was unacceptable in relation to international law. The letter said that if he continued his practices of arresting and prosecuting people who fought for their independence, he would be guilty of human rights violations. Choudhry and his colleagues encouraged Rajoy to accept the outcome of the referendum if the Catalan people wanted independence from Spain.

Choudhry Intervenes in Sri Lanka and Nepal

Another of Choudhry's international efforts took place in Sri Lanka. In 2003, he and several other constitutional experts traveled there to provide federalist solutions to the country's ongoing conflict between ethnic groups. Choudhry demonstrated that he was not afraid to face danger to help positive changes happen. He and his team drove through dangerous villages that had been torched, and they were stopped at many checkpoints by guards with machine guns. This was not the only time that Choudhry and other passionate constitutional law experts put their lives in danger to help benefit foreign societies. They also performed similar actions in 2007, and again in 2010 in Nepal to facilitate constitutional negotiations.

Stance on the Future of Democracy

In a compelling new book chapter, Choudhry shares his insights about political events in North America and how they might impact the future of democracy. The chapter will be part of the new anthology Constitutional Democracies in Crisis? In the chapter, Choudhry dissects a tweet from Eric Holder that he published in 2017. The tweet was about the potential removal of Bob Mueller or the special office. Choudhry says that such an action should result in mass peaceful protests across the nation. He points out that Holder's tweet included important concepts of a boundary for American democracy and that the decisions and reactions of the American people would determine whether the line would be crossed or respected.

Choudhry goes on to explain that the tweet reflected the idea of constitutional self-enforcement, which was a focal point. Since constitutions are important for all governments and citizens, they must outline appropriate behavior for people of power in the government. To do this, Choudhry says that focal points should be established. In his chapter, Choudhry also covers presidential term limits. He says that an autocrat would try to obliterate the term limit to stay in office longer, which could hurt the American people. Tampering with term limits is a dangerous action that threatens democracy. According to him, a person who stays in office longer than two terms could delay new elections. Although Choudhry says that he is unsure if this would happen, he points out that it would surely bring more people into the streets to protest if it did.

To elaborate on his stance about Holder's tweet, Choudhry says that the red line that he referred to could also be considered a democratic failure. In addition to the removal of term limits, he says that another dangerous action would be power seizure. An example would be a military coup. Such coups have happened in other countries and caused serious destruction. Electoral fraud from incumbents is another issue that Choudhry mentions. He also writes about concerns of the mainstream media and fake news outlets. As he points out, several popular news sources are reporting in a way that makes the country look like its constitutional democracy is eroding. He says that this threat started after the Cold War and evolved. Choudhry writes about the 2015 Polish elections and how the government worked hard to undermine the constitutional democracy's framework to remove any obstacles in its way. It wanted to ensure that it had full power in all future election cycles. He provides extensive details about the event and explains their relevance to current American democracy issues.

Choudhry explains how new rules about judicial appointments, voting, constitution panels, and other issues would be affected by the presence of an interim president on the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. To provide real-world examples, he highlights how those issues affected Poland during its previous election cycle. One important aspect that he points out is how the seizure of the constitutional tribunal happened over a period of about one year with varying levels of intensity in attacks during that time. Choudhry writes about supporting events such as the circumvention of the tribunal's vice president when the interim president took office. However, those were all steps in a process that led to a complete overhaul of the country's system, which was a formidable threat to constitutional democracy.

As he continues the chapter, Choudhry writes about democratic backsliding, which is a term that Nancy Bermeo first mentioned. Democratic backsliding happens when a legally elected president or government uses legal powers to manipulate institutions or rules to remain in power. The concept applies to the design of the election system in the United States along with its rules about term limits, independent institutions, and both political and civil liberties. To provide an example, Choudhry writes about the fall of Weimar, Germany. In that example, he shows how the shift from a coup to a democratic backslide happened because of international changes in democracy. When such changes led to cover-ups of undemocratic regimes in some places, he says that democracy degradation took place. As he continues the chapter, Choudhry also writes about countries such as South Africa, Germany, and others to illustrate important points.

Research

Choudhry has conducted extensive research on a variety of comparative constitutional law issues and related political issues. For example, some of his research was about using constitutional design as a way to manage transitions from violence and conflict to peaceful establishment of democracy. Some of his other subjects of research include:

  • federalism, secession, and decentralization.

  • constitutional design in societies with ethnic division.

  • constitutional courts and transitional justice.

  • semi-presidentialism.

  • bills of rights.

  • minority and group rights.

  • official language policy.

  • constitutional design with a transition from authoritarianism.

  • constitution building methods.

  • comparative constitutional law methodology question development.

  • security sector oversight.

Publications and Lectures

Many of Sujit Choudhry's publications and research papers are about Canadian constitutional law. He has more than 100 articles, reports, book chapters, and working papers under his name. Choudhry edited "Constitutional Design for Divided Societies: Integration or Accommodation?" and "The Migration of Constitutional Ideas." He also edited "Constitution Making" and "The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Constitution."

As a respected authority figure on comparative constitutional law publications, Choudhry is on the executive committee of the International Society of Public Law. He is also on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and a member of the International Advisory Council of the Institute for Integrated Transitions. He holds editorial positions with the Constitutional Court Review and Cambridge Studies in Constitutional Law. Additionally, he holds an honorary membership with the Indian Constitutional Law Review's advisory council.

Choudhry has spoken at many distinguished events. He inspired people in the classroom in the past, and he inspires many other legal experts today with his passion and insights. In addition to serving as its director, Choudhry is the founder of the Center for Constitutional Transitions. The organization builds strong teams of leaders who work on global projects and complete thematic research projects for better solutions. The entity works with other organizations, NGOs, and educational facilities to develop new ideas. Currently, Choudhry is also the co-leader of several collaborative global research projects. His new areas of research include:

  • security sector reform and constitutional transitions in emerging democracies.

  • dealing with territorial cleavages in constitutional transitions.

  • protecting democratic consolidation from partisan abuse and backsliding.

He is completing these research projects with the cooperation of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. When the research is finished, it will provide several policy outputs. Choudhry is also a respected member of the United Nations Mediation Roster, which is a distinguished and coveted role for any legal expert. Additionally, he served as a World Bank Institute consultant in the past. Although he has a long list of professional accomplishments, Choudhry is also a devoted family man. He has a wife, daughter, and son. He enjoys his time with his family and is usually with them when he is not busy attending faculty meetings, lecturing, writing, or performing research. A typical week for Choudhry includes each of those activities.

As he has successfully done in the past with the help of other legal experts, Sujit Choudhry is now looking forward to facilitating more constitutional development projects in ethnically divided societies. He enjoys bringing legal professionals, scholars, and political scientists together to develop new ideas and share knowledge. His passion brought forth one of the most important important pieces in his field called "Constitutional Design for Divided Societies: Integration or Accommodation?" His efforts in bringing this piece to fruition made him even more well-known as a constitutional law scholar.


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