May 2, 2011
CUNY School of Law’s 2011 Haywood Burns Lecture was held at the South African Consulate on April 25th. The forum, “The Rule of Law in Emerging Democracies: A Conversation on Judicial Review and Separation of Powers,” featured Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, a prominent figure from South Africa who helped draft the interim South African Constitution that ended centuries of apartheid.
Joining the conversation was Harvard Law Professor Frank Michelman, one of the nation’s most distinguished constitutional law scholars.
Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke
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Guests were welcomed by CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and CUNY Law Dean Michelle J. Anderson. CUNY Law Associate Dean Penny Andrews moderated the conversation and provide opportunities for the speakers to discuss how lessons from South African’s reform movement mirror the political upheaval and aspirations we are witnessing around the world today. This lecture is named for Haywood Burns, CUNY Law’s beloved former Dean and civil rights champion, who was active in post-apartheid democratic reform in South Africa.
As the tumultuous political events unfold in the Middle East, an issue that surfaces repeatedly is the rule of law. From Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen to Libya, the animating sentiment of the protesters is for the rule of law: the notion that no leader should be above the law and that the government should be responsive to and accountable for the democratic aspirations of its citizenry.
In the past two decades, South Africa experienced a similar political upheaval transitioning from authoritarianism to democracy, a transformation that gave birth to an expansive Constitution and Bill of Rights. Two bedrock principles in that Constitution are judicial review and the separation of powers. These principles emerged from the recognition that unchecked executive power is antithetical to the very idea of democracy.
CUNY School of Law hosted this exciting and timely event designed as part of an annual commemoration of the life of Haywood Burns, the School’s second Dean, who died tragically in an automobile accident in South Africa in 1996. Burns’ civil rights career began at age 15 when he helped integrate the swimming pool in Peekskill, New York. He participated in the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi, became Assistant Counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and served as General Counsel to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.
Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa Dikgang Moseneke serves on South Africa’s Constitutional Court. A former Robben Island political prisoner with President Nelson Mandela and a key figure during the anti-apartheid struggle, Justice Moseneke served on the technical committee that drafted the interim South African Constitution of 1993. Justice Moseneke’s influence on the Constitutional Court has been most pronounced in the areas of indigenous law and commercial law.
Professor Frank Michelman, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, is one of the United States’ most distinguished constitutional law scholars. He is the author of the seminal article on the economic reasons for just compensation in the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. Professor Michelman has more recently turned his scholarly gaze to South Africa and has been widely cited for his analysis on the South African Constitutional Court’s jurisprudence.