Annual Lecture: The Future of Autocratic Legalism with Professor Kim Lane Schepple

In December 2020, the Centre of Law and Society was honoured to welcome Professor Kim Lane Scheppele to deliver its annual public lecture. Kim Lane Scheppele is Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the University Center for Human Values.

Around the world, democratic citizenries are electing leaders who proceed to dismantle previously existing constitutional constraints on the power of the executive. From Hungary and Poland, to Venezuela and Ecuador, to Turkey and Russia, and even in the United States, democratically elected leaders are eschewing checks and balances and rejecting independent judiciaries, media and civil society. These new autocratic leaders appear wildly popular and are often re-elected. Why have democratically elected leaders with autocratic aspirations appeared across such a wide array of democratic governments at once? How have they undermined constitutional government and yet claimed democratic legitimacy? And, most crucially, what can be done to restore the promise of constitutionalism?

Kim Lane Scheppele’s work focuses on the intersection of constitutional and international law, particularly in constitutional systems under stress. After 1989, Scheppele studied the emergence of constitutional law in Hungary and Russia, living in both places for extended periods. After 9/11, she researched the effects of the international “war on terror” on constitutional protections around the world. Since 2010, she has been documenting the rise of autocratic legalism first in Hungary and then in Poland within the European Union, as well as its spread around the world. Her many publications in law reviews, in social science journals and in many languages cover these topics and others. Scheppele is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the International Academy of Comparative Law. In 2014, she received the Law and Society Association’s Kalven Prize for influential scholarship. She held tenure in the in the political science department at the University of Michigan, taught full-time in the law school at the University of Pennsylvania, was the founding director of the gender program at Central European University Budapest, directed the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton for a decade, and has held visiting faculty positions in the law schools at Michigan, Yale, Harvard, Erasmus/Rotterdam, and Humboldt/Berlin. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association of Constitutional Law, elected as a “global jurist.” From 2017-2019, she was the elected President of the Law and Society Association.