The Washington International Law Journal publishes global perspectives on international legal issues while fostering the development of student analysis. The Journal’s professional articles and student comments cover diverse legal and geographical terrain and offer novel approaches to international, foreign, and comparative law. To further cross-cultural dialogue on foreign law, the Journal publishes English-language translations of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese legal materials.

Volume 25 | Number 3 | June 2016

Constitutional Fig Leaves in Asia 

Po Jen Yap

June 2016

Constitutional landscapes in Asia are littered with fig leaves. These proverbial fig leaves are legal principles, doctrines, and theories of interpretation that judges appeal to when resolving constitutional disputes. This article uncovers and examines three constitutional fig leaves that are prevalent and flourishing in Asia: 1) formalism and its conceptual variants; 2) the exercise of judicial review that is merely symbolic; and 3) the invocation of vacuous constitutional doctrines. This article further argues that judicial recourse to fig leaves is not intended to deceive anyone about what courts are doing; the fig leaves are on public display merely to demonstrate that judges accept the role they are expected to play within their political systems. For better or worse, it would appear that Asian judges believe that these fig leaves are necessary to legitimize their actions, and, insofar as Asian judges are doing very little, these legal loin-cloths are vital to preserve judges’ modesties.

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The “Chaudhry Court”:  Deconstructing the “Judicialization of Politics” in Pakistan 

Moeen H. Cheema

June 2016

The Supreme Court of Pakistan underwent a remarkable transformation in its institutional role and constitutional position during the tenure of the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry (2005–2013). This era in Pakistan’s judicial history was also marked by great controversy as the court faced charges that it had engaged in “judicial activism,” acted politically, and violated the constitutionally mandated separation of powers between institutions of the state. This article presents an in-depth analysis of the judicial review actions of the Chaudhry Court and argues that the charge of judicial activism is theoretically unsound and analytically obfuscating. The notion of judicial activism is premised on the existence of artificial distinctions between law, politics and policy and fails to provide a framework for adequately analyzing or evaluating the kind of judicial politics Pakistan has recently experienced. The Supreme Court’s role, like that of any apex court with constitutional and administrative law jurisdiction, has always been deeply and structurally political and will continue to be so in the future. As such, this article focuses on the nature and consequences of the Chaudhry Court’s judicial politics rather than addressing the issue of whether it indulged in politics at all. It analyzes the underlying causes that enabled the court to exercise an expanded judicial function and in doing so engages with the literature on the “judicialization of politics” around the world.

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The Rise and Fall of Heroic Chief Justices: Constitutional Politics and Judicial Leadership in Indonesia

Stefanus Hendrianto

June 2016

In the decade following its inception, the Indonesian Constitutional Court has marked a new chapter in Indonesian legal history, one in which a judicial institution can challenge the executive and legislative branches. This article argues that judicial leadership is the main contributing factor explaining the emergence of judicial power in Indonesia. This article posits that the newly established Indonesian Constitutional Court needed a strong and skilled Chief Justice to build the institution because it had insufficient support from political actors. As the Court lacked a well-established tradition of judicial review, it needed a visionary leader who could maximize the structural advantage of the Court. Finally, the Court needed a heroic leader able to deal with the challenges and pressures from the government. This article examines the role of the four Chief Justices of the Indonesian Constitutional Court: Jimly Asshiddiqie (2003–2008), Mohammad Mahfud (2008–2013), Akil Mochtar (2013), and Hamdan Zoelva (2013–2015). Chief Justice Jimly Asshiddiqie and Muhmmad Mahfud set a high bar by playing the role of heroic Chief Justices. The departure of Asshiddiqie and Mahfud, however, marked the end an era of heroic Chief Justices. Both Chief Justices Akil Mochtar and Hamdan Zoelva could not maintain the role of heroic Chief Justice.

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The Politics of the Constitutional Common Law in Hong Kong under Chinese Sovereignty  

Eric C. Ip

June 2016

This article studies how the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal has come to develop a sophisticated judicial gloss on the provisions of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitutional document, in ways unforeseen by the Chinese National People’s Congress that enacted it. The ascendancy of constitutional common law in Hong Kong after the end of British rule is remarkable when considered in light of the continuing denial of democratic self-rule by China’s authoritarian Party-state. This article argues that the profusion of political transaction costs due to the fragmentation of the ruling elite and state-society discord consequent to the resumption of Chinese sovereignty has created the requisite space for the Court to craft, with impunity, consequential yet politically realistic doctrines bearing on such weighty matters as constitutional interpretation, central-local relations, separation of powers, and rights protection. 

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Moving Towards a Nominal Constitutional Court?  Critical Reflections on the Shift from Judicial Activism to Constitutional Irrelevance in Taiwan’s Constitutional Politics

Ming-Sung Kuo

June 2016

The Taiwan Constitutional Court (TCC, also known as the Council of Grand Justices) has been regarded as a central player in Taiwan’s transition to democracy in the late twentieth century. Transforming from a rubberstamp under the authoritarian regime into a facilitator of political dispute settlement, the TCC channelled volatile political forces into its jurisdiction. Thanks to the TCC’s judicial activism, the judicialization of constitutional politics was characteristic of Taiwan’s democratization in the last two decades of the twentieth century. The TCC scholarship asserts that the TCC has continued to play a pivotal role in Taiwan’s constitutional politics in the twenty-first century. Taking issue with this popular view, this article focuses on twenty-first century TCC case law to argue that Taiwan’s constitutional politics has moved towards de-judicialization as the TCC has gradually turned away from judicial activism in the face of escalating constitutional conflicts. With the TCC retreating from constitutional politics, this article argues that its constitutional jurisdiction is becoming nominal with the Constitution losing its grip on politics again.

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Globalization, Rights, and Judicial Review in the Supreme Court of India

Manoj Mate

June 2016

This article examines the broader and evolving role of the Supreme Court of India in an era of globalization by examining the Court’s decision-making in rights-based challenges to economic liberalization, privatization, and development policies over the past three decades. While the Court has been mostly deferential in its review of these policies and projects, it has in many cases been active and instrumental in remaking and reshaping regulatory frameworks, bureaucratic structures, accountability norms, and in redefining the terrain of fundamental rights that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other litigants have invoked in challenges to these policies. This article argues that the Court has deployed rights as “structuring principles” in order to evaluate and review liberalization and privatization policies, based on constitutional or statutory illegality, arbitrariness or unreasonableness, or corruption, and framed rights as “substantivenormative principles” to assess development policies. This article argues that the Court’s particular approach to rights-based judicial review has resulted in the creation of “asymmetrical rights terrains” that privilege the rights and interests of private commercial and industrial stakeholders and government officials and agencies, above the rights and interests of labor, villagers, farmers, and tribes. The article concludes by suggesting that the Court’s approach to judicial review reflects a unique model of adjudication in which high courts play an active role in shaping the meaning of rights, regulatory structure and norms, and the legal-constitutional discourse of globalization.

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On the Uneven Journey to Constitutional Redemption:  The Malaysian Judiciary and Constitutional Politics

Yvonne Tew

June 2016

This article explores the Malaysian judiciary’s approach toward interpreting the Federal Constitution of Malaysia and situates it within the context of the nation’s political and constitutional history. It traces the judiciary’s movement toward a more rights-oriented approach followed by its more recent retreat, which has been marked by strict formalism and insularity in several appellate court decisions. This article argues that the Malaysian courts’ journey toward constitutional redemption has been uneven so far. In order to reclaim its constitutional position as a co-equal branch of government, the Malaysian judiciary must be willing to uphold its constitutional duty to assert its commitment to constitutional supremacy and the rule of law.

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