Vol. 33 No. 02 (February 2023) pp. 24-27

CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION, by Gary Jeffrey Jacobsohn and Yaniv Roznai. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020. pp. 384. Hardcover: $65.00. ISBN 978-0-300-23102-1.

Reviewed by András Sajó. Department of Legal Studies. Central European University PU. Email:

This book is a felicitous combination of two research interests: Gary Jacobsohn is famous for developing one of the most well known theories of constitutional identity, while Yaniv Roznai is rightly appreciated for his original monograph on (unconstitutional) constitutional amendments. They “understand identity as an interactive process whereby a constitution, much like a person, develops its distinctive character or individuality through engagement with its environment, within the broader context of its being” (p. 125). They agree with the philosopher Charles Taylor’s insight, “[M]y own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relation with others” (p. 125). This dialogical approach is central to the book: the issue is who participates in the dialogue.

The authors are not only interested in how far amendment enables the maintenance or furthers the development of constitutional identity, but also in its fundamental replacement in the form of constitutional revolution. In their account, “a constitutional revolution can be said to exist when we are confronted with a paradigmatic displacement, however achieved, in the conceptual prism through which constitutionalism is experienced in a given polity. In some cases, this achievement unfolds incrementally and without the benefit of the sort of dramatic rupture and follow-up usually associated with generic revolutionary activity” (p. 237).

Continuity of the constitutional system is a fundamental question of legitimacy. This classic legal position was presented by Hans Kelsen about one hundred years ago. The great Austrian legal theorist was of the view that legal revolution means the amendment (creation) of the constitution in a process that disregards the rules of amendment (revision, new constitution making) of the constitution in force. The authors recognize the merit of the formalistic position, but their fundamental thesis is that a constitutional revolution can be a substantive, long-term development that has its own legitimacy. Thereby, the authors oppose a very influential tenet in constitutional theory: Bruce Ackerman’s constitutional moment paradigm (and in certain respects Hannah Arendt’s views too). Their theoretical position is supported by a number of case studies that are offered in support of their theory. Some of these are relatively short, namely on the United States, South Africa, Ireland, and Japan, while separate chapters are dedicated to Hungary, Germany, India, and Israel. Hungary offers two formally legitimate (therefore formally not revolutionary) revolutionary constitutions. First, they moved from communist non-constitutionalism to a constitutional system via the amendments in 1989-1990, and, twenty years later, once again in a formally legitimate way, in accordance with the (poorly drafted) constitution in force. This second time the new Fundamental Law moved away from constitutionalism, creating an illiberal constitutional revolution. In Germany, the making of the Basic Law in 1949 was a one time event that offered a stable identity. The constitutional judiciary considered its task to sustain the results of the revolution. The authors’ critical remarks refer to the lack of flexible development, especially in matters of European integration. As to India, the record of Constituent Assembly remains contested, but the authors seem to endorse the view that the judiciary (relying on the doctrine of unamendability of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution) carried out the promises of a constitutional revolution with respect to equality. Finally, the Israeli model represents substantive constitutional revolution without formal constitution-making. In the Israeli case, the Basic Laws, which can be seen as chapters of a constitution in the making, did not, without radical judicial constitutionalisation, possess the supremacy and entrenchment ordinarily needed for a constitution. In addition, the enactment in the Knesset occurred without a constitution-making mandate.

The country studies rely on the extended analysis of a few judgments in light of the literature. This method is certainly adequate when presenting models of constitutional revolution, but this comes at a price.


Vol. 33 No. 02 (February 2023) pp. 20-23

CONVICT CRIMINOLOGY FOR THE FUTURE, by Jeffrey Ian Ross & Francesca Vianello (eds.). Oxon and New York, 2021. pp.217. ISBN 978- 0-367-86015-8.

Reviewed by Danica Darley. Department of Sociological Studies. The University of Sheffield. Email:

Contributions to the book CONVICT CRIMINOLOGY FOR THE FUTURE come from both the editors and others who identify with the convict criminologist movement. The contributors come from across the globe, bringing together a diverse range of perspectives on convict criminology for the first time, who offer their hopes for the advancement of this important aspect of criminological research. As a convict criminologist from the U.K. I found this book to be interesting, but challenging at points. Overall, it makes a cohesive and important argument for the future of this sub-discipline of criminology. The book is of particular importance to those with an interest in critical criminology, auto-ethnography, scholar activism, and the value of lived experience in the pursuit of the democratization of knowledge. It reflects well on the varied and complicated ways that convict criminology has been established in different parts of the world, and sets out a cohesive, yet flexible, call to action for the development of the movement.

Chapter two of the book entitled CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING by Jeffrey Ian Ross offers a valuable oversight of the history of the “Convict Criminology” (CC) movement. It clearly explains what it is and what it is not and offers historical and socio-political contexts which help explain the establishment and rise of the group. Ross suggests that convict criminology was born over time in the 1990’s. It was built on the tradition in criminology and criminal justice that has often challenged traditional and orthodox practices, as well as efforts to change our agencies of power and control for the better. He goes on to offer a structural account of its development, emphasizing the importance of social movements, such as the 1960’s civil rights, anti war, peace and prisoner movements. These left-wing and progressive movements saw the development of initiatives in prisons teaching prisoners numeracy and literacy. Interestingly, Ross links the development of CC to pedagogical developments influenced by Paolo Friere who advocated for participatory learning. This extended prison learning beyond basic numeracy and literacy skills to the teaching of both practical and academic subjects that were considered useful for people after leaving prison.

For me, as an aspiring convict criminologist myself, the mentorship aspect of the CC movement that Ross discusses is interesting. This has definitely, informally, been my experience of CC, and I have benefited from the mentorship of convict criminologist, Rod Earle. However, the book clearly illustrates that this mentorship is a very informal process, happening to a greater or lesser extent in different parts of the world. The book does a good job of recognizing this postcode lottery, and carefully considers different ways in which the mentorship could be specifically tailored to different geographical locations. The book also reinforces the importance of activism in convict criminology, stemming from the larger body of critical criminology and influenced by the work of the feminist movement. Ross’ chapter argues that activism can lead to effective policy changes in the criminal justice system through critical analysis of its work and thorough research that aims to change and reform the system.

For me, Ross’s chapter, although it does make a great case for CC and sets out clearly the intentions of the movement, gives a sense of CC having been developed in a criminal justice vacuum. Although acknowledgement is given to the social and political conditions,


Vol. 33 No. 02 (February 2023) pp. 16-19

FROM PARCHMENT TO PRACTICE: IMPLEMENTING NEW CONSTITUTIONS, by Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq (eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. pp309. Cloth $99.99. ISBN: 978-1-108-48773-3. Paper $34.99. ISBN 978-1-10873802-6.

Reviewed by Gary Jacobsohn. Department of Government. The University of Texas at Austin. Email:

Constitution-making is an inherently fraught activity, rendered so by the contradictions embedded in the goals of the enterprise. In the early days of independent India, Prime Minister Nehru, who had been a prime mover in the Constituent Assembly that framed his nation’s governing document, voiced a concern that expresses very well the underlying theme of this edited volume. “The whole purpose behind the Constitution which was meant to be a dynamic constitution…is somewhat hampered and hindered by the static element being emphasized a little more than the dynamic element and we have to find out some way of solving it” (Kashyup 1982, pp. xii-xiii). That the object of his concern is now a septuagenarian document, having endured much longer than most constitutions, may suggest that a solution was found. Or, as the essays in this splendid collection also suggest, its success in exceeding the longevity of the typical constitutional experiment may be attributable as much to the fortuitous convergence of local political and legal dynamics than to any systematically imposed solution.

The specific focus of this collection of essays is the first period following the adoption of a new constitution. As its editors, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq note, this stage can be viewed as “the conceptual, temporal, and institutional bridge between the past and future” (p. 1). Critical to reaching the second period and beyond – their data reveals the modal age of constitutional mortality to be one year – is the capacity and willingness of constitutional actors to engage with the tension that is endemic to governing documents no matter their differences in origin or design, namely the contending commitments to transformation and preservation. What follows their introductory chapter is an admirably coherent series of country studies in which the authors address this tension and the diverse ways in which success and failure have resulted from activities undertaken by these actors in the specific constitutional settings that are the subjects of their investigative efforts. If one were to imagine a spectrum with the goals of transformation and preservation on opposite ends, the countries included in this volume would easily fill all the spaces along the continuum. The absence of a concluding chapter is a slight disappointment more than compensated for by the implicit challenge to the reader to reflect upon the endurance prospects that are posed by a country’s spectral positioning.

Most of the cases in this volume underscore the importance of the judiciary in navigating the turbulent waters of constitutional disputation and development. Fittingly, the first country study is of the world’s oldest governing document, and in Sanford Levinson’s account of the American example, we see very clearly that the institutional capacity of courts to provide determinative meaning to the transformation/preservation challenge is both broad and severely limited. Levinson sees only failure in the absence of judicially inspired constitutional adaptation, which in the United States practically means advancing the transformative possibilities of national consolidation over the preservationist bias of state sovereignty. Levinson, however, is mindful of an entrenched reality in normal constitutional politics, namely the textual advantages available to those with power-retaining interests that align with structural features whose settled properties render them largely impervious to even the most enlightened judicial manipulation.

This resistance to court-imposed reformism rests more comfortably and predictably in constitutional settings notable for their authoritarian origins. As Ginsburg explains,


Vol. 33 No. 1 (January 2023) pp. 12-15

A CONSTITUTION FOR THE LIVING: IMAGINING HOW FIVE GENERATIONS OF AMERICANS WOULD REWRITE THE NATION’S FUNDAMENTAL LAW, by Beau Breslin. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2021. pp.359. Cloth $28.00. ISBN: 9780804776707. Epub $25.00.

Reviewed by Staci Beavers. Department of Political Science. California State University San Marcos. Email:

Picking up Beau Breslin’s new book ten years ago likely would have proven an engaging exercise that I could have then promptly set aside to go back about my own business. Breslin puts forward an intriguing idea with his “experiment in constitutional imagination” (p. 29). His experiment is envisioning shifting constitutional debates through narrative accounts of imagined constitutional conventions held at several inflection points throughout U.S. history. But, reading this work in the aftermath of an insurrection and evidence of a high-level, coordinated effort to undermine a presidential election proved quite a different experience entirely. The underlying concept here still intrigues. However, when addressing contemporary U.S. challenges, Breslin’s effort feels as if it were written in a vacuum devoid of important recent context.

Breslin’s starting point is the founding-era debate over the appropriate lifespan of a written constitution, specifically Philadelphia’s 1787 effort. James Madison, of course, won with a “stable, lasting, and enduring” charter (p. 25), though Breslin largely leaves alone the debate over how such an “enduring” constitution should be interpreted and applied centuries after its ratification. He focuses instead on Jefferson’s losing argument that written constitutions should be formally re-examined and potentially even replaced for the governing of each successive generation. Taking up Jefferson’s call for periodic constitutional re-examinations, Breslin envisions how a series of constitutional conventions could have played out at several points across U.S. history. As Breslin articulates his quest, “…what would America’s constitution have looked like in each major era if Jefferson had convinced” his contemporaries “that each generation ought to draft its own text?” (p. 29).


Vol. 33 No.1 (January 2023) pp. 7-11

LABORATORIES AGAINST DEMOCRACY: HOW NATIONAL PARTIES TRANSFORMED STATE POLITICS, by Jacob Grumbach. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 288 pp. Cloth $29.95. ISBN: 9780691218458.

Reviewed by Mark Rush, Department of Politics, Washington and Lee University. Email:

This is an important and potentially controversial book. Grumbach offers a sweeping analysis of American political parties, federalism, and political polarization to argue that the nationalization of the Democratic and Republican parties in particular and American politics in general has resulted in “a resurgence of state governments at the center of American policymaking, reduced policy learning between states controlled by opposing parties, and democratic backsliding in states controlled by the Republican party” (pp. 4 -5). As a result, he argues, states have become laboratories not of democratic innovation but, instead, democratic backsliding in which they “innovate” “new ways to restrict the franchise, gerrymander districts, exploit campaign finance loopholes, and circumvent civil rights in the criminal justice system” (p. 5).

What Grumbach observes and describes is a confluence of numerous changes in and pathologies of U.S. politics, not federalism itself. A system that once fostered state-by-state innovation and political diversity has been homogenized by national parties. Despite gridlock at the national level, the parties have assembled pervasive networks of activist, incumbents, and groups (p. 8) penetrate even the most local aspects of politics and, thereby, homogenize what was once a politically and geographically diverse American universe. Thanks to the empowerment of groups such as the National Rifle Association and and the impact of social media, these two partisan networks have polarized all aspects of the political system despite the expectations of the Framers who clearly anticipated a dynamic, diverse federal polity.


Vol. 33 No. 1 (January 2023) pp. 1-6

YOU ARE NOT AMERICAN: CITIZENSHIP STRIPPING FROM DRED SCOTT TO THE DREAMERS by Amanda Frost. Boston: Beacon Press, 2021. pp.248. Cloth: $27.95. ISBN-13:978-0807051429. Paper: $16.95. ISBN-13:978-0807055458.
Vol. 33 No.1 (January 2023) pp. 1-6

AMERICAN BY BIRTH: WONG KIM ARK AND THE BATTLE FOR CITIZENSHIP by Carol Nackenoff and Julie Novkov. Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2021. pp.304. Cloth: $37.50. ISBN-13:978-0700631926. Paper: $27.95. ISBN-13:978-0700634217.

Reviewed by Reviewed by Anna O. Law. Department of Political Science. City University of New York. Brooklyn College. Email:

Citizenship is a concept that most Americans, especially natural-born citizens, only occasionally think about. Perhaps some are temporarily reminded of it when they use it as a passport for foreign travel. But for those politically disfavored individuals and groups who were and are fighting for formal citizenship or to regain lost citizenship, attaining and reclaiming the status was an arduous fight. The lack of or loss of citizenship had negative consequences for their ability to travel, work, hold public office, and avoid deportation.

Two new books, one by a legal scholar and another by two political scientists, illustrate how, in addition to immigration laws that police its geographic borders, nations also use citizenship laws to regulate entry into the political community. As Hannah Arendt famously wrote, before one can enjoy social, political, or civil rights, one must first have citizenship which conveys, “the right to have rights” (Arendt 1976, p. 296-297). The books examine how disfavored groups experienced the lack of citizenship or the loss of status, and how having formal citizenship did not always mean equal treatment.

U.S. citizenship is an antecedent of the English conception of citizenship as perpetual and immutable. The notion then was once a citizen of a nation, always a citizen. The American innovation after the Revolutionary War was to introduce the idea of being able to choose one’s citizenship and to change it over one’s lifetime. But the other side of that double-edged sword is that the nation could also pick and choose which persons and groups to grant citizenship to as an incidence of its national sovereignty (Nackenoff and Novkov 2021, p. 7-27; Kettner 2005). Both AMERICAN BY BIRTH and YOU ARE NOT AMERICAN are case studies of the development of U.S. citizenship in a nation of settler colonialism and slavery.