Lifestyle » Vol. 9

Louis Aucoin, Constitution Writer

By Paul Giorgio

At a Glance:

Spencer, MA native

Graduate of Holy Cross College

Professor at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University

Helped write the constitutions of East Timor, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Cambodia

Supreme Court fellow 2001-2

Vitality: How do you write a constitution?

Aucoin: I’m part of a team from around the world that includes different experts. You have to have knowledge of legal systems. You help a country figure out how to adopt a constitution. The primary point is how to involve the population in the development of constitution. The best example of this is South Africa.

Vitality: Was this done with our constitution?

Aucoin: No, it wasn’t. There was no civic engagement. It was basically written by the elites.

Vitality: Do you write you name on the constitution like John Hancock?

Aucoin: We don’t affix our names but the in-country people do.

Vitality: What was the most challenging constitution?

Aucoin: Cambodia, which was emerging from period of the Khmer Rouge (which destroyed everything ~ they had killed all the judges and lawyers) was. There still is a lot of conflict in the society so we had trouble reaching consensus.

Vitality: Do any of these countries want to copy America?

Aucoin: Latin America has, but not in any of the democracies I have been involved with. The exception is the phenomena of judicial review which was created by US Supreme Court in Marbury v Madison. This was the first time that a court ruled that you could overturn a law if it violated the constitution. Almost all modern constitutions have judicial review.

Vitality: Where have you spent the most time?

Aucoin: I spent almost a year in East Timor, which was a former Portuguese colony (about 1 ½ hour north of Australia) which had broken away from Indonesia. I was the Head of Judicial Affairs for the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAET). I was in effect the Justice Minister. I was in charge of rebuilding the judicial system. This included the building of court houses, appointing judges and prosecutors, and the development of legal codes.

Vitality: How about Kosovo?

Aucoin: I wasn’t involved until last year. Kosovo gained independence on February 17, 2008. I spent the year going back and forth working on the constitution. They were influenced by the Constitutions of Germany, Croatia and Albania. It is one of the most liberal constitutions in the world. It is gender neutral with regards to marriage and includes protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation

Vitality: If you could go back in time and be an advisor to the writers of our constitution, what would you change?

Aucoin: It’s kind of hard to imagine that because the world was so different, but I would have suggested more involvement of people instead of the elites. Ours is the oldest constitution in the world, but it doesn’t address the state of emergency; most modern constitutions do, especially the suspension of habeas corpus. During the Bush administration there was a plan to declare a state of emergency and have human rights suspended.

Vitality : What is your next project?

Aucoin: There is talk of Bosnia re- writing its constitution.

Vitality: What prepared you for this career?

Aucoin: Growing up in a large Italian-American family in Worcester gave me the basis for conflict resolution.

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