The new Dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law is none other than Sujit Choudhry, a prolific scholar and an international expert on comparative constitutional development. He has to his credit more than seventy articles, reports and book chapters.
Choudhry, now 44, was born in Delhi and raised in Toronto. He attended the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School at the University of Toronto and later went on to obtain his undergraduate degree from McGill University, and is a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law.
Choudhry spent his first 12 years as an academic at the University of Toronto, and served in several roles that allowed him to be an important participant in discussions about the challenges facing many public law schools.
“My legal studies essentially began at Oxford, where I got a law degree and studied English constitutional law. I returned to Canada and studied Canadian constitutional law. Then I interned with a legal team in South Africa, as part of the certification of that country’s constitution in 1996, and learned about constitutional law there. I soon got my LL.M. at Harvard, and learnt about American constitutional law. Now, I’m co-editing the Oxford Handbook of Indian Constitutional Law with Pratap Bhanu Mehta”, says a confident Choudhry.
Initially Choudhry felt that he wanted to settle in Canada permanently. However, his academic endeavors lead him to the US where he eventually moved to New York University in 2011 and UC Berkeley School of Law in 2014.
However he is by no means limited to the world of academia. Choudhry is also a member of the United Nations Mediation Roster, has worked as a consultant to the World Bank Institute and holds expertise with regards to constitutional transitions in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
In 2010, he received the Trudeau Fellowship, and later also worked as Law Clerk to Chief Justice Antonio Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada.
He is particularly fascinated with human rights and democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring.
In response to the several new reports released by The Center for Constitutional Transitions this year, he feels that as these Constitutional courts may play an important role in consolidating democracy after a constitutional transition, it’s essential that they be independent and accountable.
Q&A with Mr. CHOUDHRY
Q: How do you view Your Your biggest obstacles?
A: “I have had a very fortunate life steeped in academia. My father was a Professor of Economics at Canada’s leading and largest public university, and my mother taught nursing. I am the product of a public university education, and thus I have been engaged with the special mission and responsibility of public universities for most of my adult life.
That sense of our collective public mission underscores my interest in constitutional transitions and the fundamental principles of democratic rights. During field research, I’ve witnessed the struggles of oppressed societies and appreciate the hardships they face daily. In 2003, I traveled with a team of foreign constitutional experts to Sri Lanka to propose a federalist solution to the country’s ethnic conflict. We drove past burned-out villages and barbed-wire checkpoints guarded by machine gun–toting soldiers. I made similar trips to Nepal in 2007 and 2010 in support of constit-utional negotiations, where I met with political party leaders and former Maoist guerrillas. I’ve learned from their struggles and feel an urgency to give something back to our global community.”
Q: How does it feel to be the first South Asian-origin scholar to be named Dean of the School of Law at Berkeley?
A: “I’m thrilled to be the next dean of UC Berkeley School of Law. It’s a great honor and an extraordinary opportunity. It’s also humbling to know that I’m setting such a precedent among my peers.”
What would you say about Constitutional transitions in the region that has experienced the Arab Spring?
“Constitutional design—and the core principles of constitutional transition—are critically important in the Arab region.
It’s important to recognize the differences among Arab countries in their respective transition processes. In fact, no perfect model exists to work across all Arab countries. But inclusivity is essential in the constitution building process, as well as institutional safeguards, to avoid a path towards new authoritarianism.”
What are some of the things you like doing in your free time?
A: “I like to spend my free time with my children, enjoying my family life.”