New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



71 Brooklyn Law Review (forthcoming 2006)


In recent years, the metaphor of “dialogue” has become increasingly ubiquitous within constitutional theory – both in the United States and globally – as a way of describing the nature of interactions between courts and non-judicial actors in the area of constitutional decision-making, particularly in relation to the interpretation of rights. This Article provides a critical account of theories of constitutional dialogue in order to determine which of these theories hold the greatest normative promise. Theories of dialogue face two hurdles to normative success. First, they must accomplish their goal of resolving the democratic objection to judicial review. Second, and legitimacy aside, they must be able to provide an attractive normative vision of the role of judicial review in democratic constitutionalism. This Article maintains that while theories of constitutional dialogue do make important contributions to our understanding of judicial review, most fail to provide satisfying normative visions of dialogue on these dual levels of analysis. This Article concludes that the greatest potential for achieving a normatively satisfying understanding of constitutional dialogue emerges when the contributions of equilibrium and partnership theories of dialogue are synthesized. Equilibrium theories focus on the judiciary’s capacity to facilitate society-wide debate, while partnership theories draw attention to more distinct “judicial” and “legislative” functions that the different branches of government respectively perform. The dynamic fusion of these models not only makes the greatest contributions to our understanding of modern constitutionalism and the practice of judicial review, but also offers the greatest potential for designing improved dialogic constitutional systems in the future.

Date of Authorship for this Version

November 2005