Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

Fall 9-1-2020

Abstract

The template of written constitutional rights has expanded across the world, and yet they operate as unevenly as do the formal organizations that are motivated to defend them. This book review, of Adam Chilton and Mila Versteeg’s, How Constitutional Rights Matter, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) celebrates the ambition of empirically assessing, on a global scale, the effectiveness of constitutional rights, and yet queries its assumptions. An important demarcation offered by the authors is between constitutional rights which support (and are defended by) organizations, like churches or trade unions, and constitutional rights which are defended primarily by individuals. As this review explores, some of the authors’ findings, particularly on the rise of organizational religious freedom rights, are important for conceiving of the effectiveness of the constitutional rights of those who practice majority versus minority religions. Others, such as the assessment of the effectiveness of constitutional economic and social rights (as measured by expenditure), require a more extensive engagement with empirical human rights measurement and welfare state studies. In both cases, the task of assessing causal mechanisms for how constitutional rights matter, while controlling for the wealth of a country, its population size, its democratic status, whether it is engaged in war, its judicial independence, and its regime durability (for civil and political rights); and its economic growth, inflation, population age, and urban population (for economic and social rights), remains intriguing. Drawing on previous findings of collective action and coordination problems is a fruitful start.

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