Instructor(s): Richard Stacey

For graduate students, the course number is LAW5061H.

Note: This course satisfies either the Perspective or the International/Comparative/Transnational
course requirement.

This course considers how the concept of sovereignty shapes both discourse in public law and engagement between subjects of legal systems and the governments that exercise power in those systems. We begin by looking at some discussions of sovereignty in classical texts, including Hobbes and Locke, exploring how these ideas are reflected in modern conceptions of constitutional democracy that make much of the perambulatory phrase We, the People. We look also at the founding moment of important constitutional systems, both in the 18th and 19th century and during the third wave of democratisation in the late 20th century and more recently. We will explore procedural mechanisms purporting to allow the exercise of sovereign political power, looking both at constitutional changes by referendum (whether adopting a new constitution or amending an existing one) and at significant political changes brought about or sought to be brought about by referendum (Brexit, an independent Quebec/Catalonia/Scotland, same-sex marriage). We consider also alternative routes to the exercise of sovereign power, particularly by politically marginalized or disenfranchised groups such as Indigenous peoples in Canada and socio-economically disadvantaged people in South Africa. We will explore whether constitutional rights to economic and social goods or to meaningful engagement between the government and these disenfranchised communities can create an opportunity for the exercise of sovereignty when the ordinary processes of electoral politics are ineffective. Readings for the course will include currently in-progress works by leading constitutional law and political science scholars: I hope to have those scholars join us in class or by videolink for class discussions.

class participation (10%); a 250 word proposal (10%); and a final paper of 6,500-7,500 words on a topic to be decided in consultation with instructor and approved after submission of proposal (80%).

At a Glance

Second Term
Perspective course


20 JD


W: 2:10 - 4:00