Monday, September 28, 2009
My vision for "Rule by Hukum"
I’ve been thinking a about “Rule by Hukum” and my vision for it. Obviously, it is partially a forum for me to express my views about Southeast Asian legal issues. However, I hope eventually it will become more than that. Here are my thoughts on the purpose of “Rule by Law” and how it will fit into the comparative law blogosphere:
1) Promote knowledge and research of Southeast Asian law
Unfortunately, Southeast Asian laws, cases, and scholarship are often hard to find. A search of Lexis Nexis, the premier source for legal research in the U.S., yields only a handful of articles for Burmese law (all of which are written by just two authors). Sometimes, the most interesting work is published in relatively obscure journals, such as the Australian Journal of Asian Law, which is a great resource – if you can find it. Jurisprudence is seldom available online and not given the same weight as in the American legal system. I have found a few Southeast Asian cases (such as the Newmont case in Indonesia), and will comment some of these hidden gems.
I know many people interested in Southeast Asia have neither the time nor inclination to read all of this material, much less search for it. On the other hand, I need to read it as part of my research. Therefore, I figure I would share some of the most interesting pieces and summarize them in order to make them more accessible. Along these lines, I'll also post reviews of any books related to Southeast Asian law or courts.
2) Provide thoughtful insights into Southeast Asian legal issues
As I’ve often mentioned, there simply isn’t much analysis of law and legal institutions in Southeast Asia, especially when compared to the thousands of trees killed for law review articles about China every year. I hope to put my legal training to good use by filling this gap with my observations (sans killing trees). I have studied international law and dozens constitutions at Georgetown, including China, Japan, and India, and interned at several legal organizations in Southeast Asia, so I can draw upon my experiences to provide a comparative perspective. In fact, you'll probably notice that I will often draw upon the legal experiences of other Asian countries to highlight important trends or institutional innovations in Southeast Asia.
On that note, I am sure many of you have interesting insights on these issues, so please feel free to comment in the comments section. Alternatively, if you would like to contribute a longer commentary for the site, I’d be happy to post it.
3) Understand Southeast Asian theories of constitutional review
I find comparative constitutional law to be a fascinating field, but am disappointed that Southeast Asia hasn’t made much of a contribution. At Georgetown, I read cases from Canada, Germany, France, South Africa, Japan, India, and Colombia – but nothing from Southeast Asia. Most constitutional courts employ a “proportionality” test, which balances constitutional rights against governmental interests. By contrast, in the U.S., Supreme Court justices are divided between Justice Antonin Scalia’s “originalism” and Stephen Breyer’s “active liberty.”
I’m sure Southeast Asian constitutional courts have developed unique ways of interpreting constitutions. My understanding is that courts in the ASEAN-5 often alternate between expanding and restricting constitutional rights. For example, the Philippine Supreme Court has adopted U.S. case law requiring a “harm or controversy” for locus standi, but for environmental suits has followed the example of the Indian Supreme Court by practically abolishing standing requirements for public interest environmental litigation (I have written about this in greater depth elsewhere). The truth is, Western comparative law scholars simply haven’t looked to Southeast Asia. "Rule by Hukum" will attempt show just how rich the region's constitutional experiences are.
4) Network among Southeast Asian legal scholars
Eventually, when this site has enough followers, I hope it will serve as a networking forum where scholars and lawyers interested in Southeast Asia can learn about each other. There are so few scholars in this field that sometimes being familiar with the work of 2-3 people will represent a significant proportion of the English-language literature on an ASEAN country’s legal system. I will "tag" any authors I mention in posts, so readers can read what I've written about them and figure out who studies which countries.
Hopefully, you all share some of these goals and will work with me and “Rule by Hukum” to promote this field. Please feel free to let me know if you have any other ideas for the blog. I look forward to blogging with you!