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The Australian National University

History and Memory in Constitutional Adjudication

Daphne Barak-Erez (2017) 45 (1)

This article considers the different ways in which judicial decisions use and narrate history. It distinguishes between several forms of judicial recourse to history, including the difference between decisions which refer to general history and decisions that refer to the history of legal documents; and the difference between decisions on factual controversies that have historical significance and decisions that take judicial notice of history. At the same time, this article recognises that the division between these categories is not clear-cut. An analysis of constitutional case law sheds light on the ways in which courts harness historical events in order to justify their normative choices. More specifically, while some judicial decisions cite history in order to justify continuity with the past, others regard history as a cautionary tale that calls for a change of direction. In between, some decisions opt for a middle route, supporting continuity with historical decisions but offering new interpretations of their lessons. This article concludes by examining decisions that try to ‘learn’ from history, illuminating the enduring challenge in drawing different and even conflicting lessons from the very same historical event.

Vol 45, Issue 1, 2017

Table of contents

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