Conferences & Lectures

Twelfth-century English manuscript
Digest of the Emporor Justinian. Twelfth-century English manuscript.


Judicial Power and the Rule of Law: Visiones Comparadas

Barcelona and Sitges, Spain
June 7–10, 2001

"With the turn of the third millennium, modern states face new challenges to their political traditions. At a time when democracy is everywhere accepted as a prevailing model of government, its foundations have become more vulnerable. As the legitimacy of the political system is being questioned, justice and legality are relied upon more than ever as the guarantors of the social order. This phenomenon marks a departure from the threats that have traditionally undermined the historical evolution of democratic societies. It reveals a paradigm shift in political and legal culture."

With the intent of exploring these issues in a comparative context, the Robbins Collection, in conjunction with the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, and the Unité Mixte de Recherches CNRS "Dynamiques du Droit," Université Montpellier I, France, hosted a conference in June 2001 for judges and legal scholars from France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the United States. The multi-day conference, entitled Judicial Power and the Rule of Law: Visiones Comparadas, took place on June 7-10 in Barcelona and Sitges, Spain.

By bringing together some of the most important judicial officials and preeminent legal scholars in Europe and the United States, the conference provided a forum for examining the relationship between the theory and practice of judicial power in an unprecedented manner. Robbins Collection Director Laurent Mayali and Professor Antonio Serrano of the Faculty of Law at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, working in collaboration with Professor Bernard Durand, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Université Montpellier I, were instrumental in organizing a distinguished group of conference participants.

The Spanish judges who took part were Pedro Cruz Villalón, President of the Tribunal Constitucional (the Spanish Constitutional Court), Madrid; Guillem Vidal i Andreu, President of the Tribunal Superior de Justícia de Catalunya (Catalan Supreme Court), Barcelona; and Fernando Ledesma, Magistrado del Tribunal Supremo (Spanish Supreme Court), Madrid. The French judges included Guy Canivet, President of the Cour de Cassation (the French Supreme Court), Paris; Jean-Pierre Dumas, President of the Commercial Chamber of the Cour de Cassation, Paris; and Jean-Paul Jean, Appeals Court Justice and Director of the Mission Recherche CNRS "Droit et Justice," Paris. Judge Kurt Graulich of the Bundesverwaltungsgericht (Federal Administrative Court), Berlin, represented Germany, while Edward Becker, Chief Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Philadelphia; Laurence Silberman, Associate Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Washington, D.C.; and Stephen F. Williams, Associate Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Washington, D.C., represented the United States.

The panel discussions and papers that the judges delivered reflected the diversity of political, social and cultural roles that the judicial system plays in contemporary democratic nations and highlighted the most current and controversial issues facing their countries. Justices Becker, Silberman and Williams opened the first session of the conference with a lively debate on the judicialization of public policy in the United States: Silberman and Williams advocated a conservative approach that would limit the courts' growing power in shaping American society, while Becker argued that judges should play an activist role. Keynote speaker Cruz Villalón and closing speaker Ledesma considered the challenges that the Spanish justice system has faced as it has evolved politically in the post-Franco transition to democracy, while Vidal commented at the conference inauguration on the state of the justice system in Catalonia. The French judges, Canivet, Dumas, and Jean, gave three different perspectives on the contemporary function of the judge in France, focusing particularly on questions of government by judges and the quality of justice. Judge Graulich explained the pivotal transformative role of the judiciary in the deregulation of railways and telecommunication in Germany. The diverse styles of discourse among the judges suggested notable distinctions between American and European national judicial cultures, which was another fruitful subject of discussion during the sessions.

Complementing the judges' discussions of judicial power in practice, the panels comprised of law professors and legal historians centered on theoretical examinations of both the historical foundations and the current functions of judicial power in political systems. Boalt Hall's Dean John Dwyer and faculty members Jesse Choper, Eric Rakowski, Howard Shelanski, and John Yoo represented the United States. Professors Rakowski and Shelanski spoke together on judicial power and same-sex marriage in the U.S., while Choper and Yoo debated the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election, with Dean Dwyer moderating both panels. A number of prominent European legal scholars presented similar national perspectives, and represented institutions which included the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal; the Consejo General del Poder Judicial, Madrid; the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Escuela Judicial, Barcelona; the Université Paris-Dauphine and the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris; the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften and the Max-Planck Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt.

While the conference sessions were the centerpiece of the three-day meeting, the generous collaboration of the Spanish and Catalan governments added significantly to the program of events. The rector and dean of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Catalan Supreme Court hosted the inaugural proceedings and reception, which took place in the historic Casa de Convalescència in Barcelona, to welcome guests and begin the conference on Thursday. Participants also enjoyed the singular honor of attending a dinner at the invitation of the Catalan government, hosted by the Prime Minister of Catalonia, Artur Mas. The dinner was held at the Palace of the Generalitat of Catalonia in Barcelona, the seat of Catalan government and a magnificent building which few visitors to Barcelona have the opportunity to visit.

The enthusiasm with which the Catalan and Spanish governments welcomed the conference participants was a testament to the real intellectual and political value of this groundbreaking international encounter. In fact, the success of this first conference and the exciting exchange of ideas and perspectives which it produced have already led to plans for a second conference, to be held during September 2002 in Berkeley. The conference organizers hope not only to continue the important work which was begun in Spain this June, but to expand the scope of the project and include new perspectives by including judicial officials and scholars from Latin America and perhaps Asia as well as Europe and the United States.