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lunes, 15 de agosto de 2011

The legacy of Carlos s. Nino: Taking (social) rights seriously

Por Walter F. Carnota*

1. Introduction.-

Classical constitutions focused on the basic blueprint of government and just a cluster of negative rights. These rights were recognized to all human beings as ‘natural’ or ‘essential’, mainly in the civil and political arenas. The 1787 U.S. Constitution did not provide originally for a bill of rights; the first Ten Amendments eventually did so four years later.-
The American experience is telling, as freedom of speech and religion, right to assembly and to petition the redress of grievances, right to bear arms and procedural safeguards such as those of Amendments IV and V were included. Many constitutions subsequently followed suit, and also entrenched a ‘minimal’ bill of rights. Constitutions were rather short and unpretentious. A strong emphasis was placed on limitations and checks on government (what was known as the ‘frame of government’section) instead of the rights area. The ‘rights talk’ was rather rethorical and scant. Some Constitutions even do not include a bill of rights at all, such as Australia (1901).-
Constitutions tended to develop the Enlightenment philosophy of the 18th.Century. The influence of political thinkers such as Montesquieu and Rousseau is easily recognizable in many documents, as division of powers and popular sovereignty became dominant features.-

2. Social changes and Constitutionalism.-

The Industrial Revolution spawned considerable changes in economic and social life in general. It also had a considerable impact on political and legal institutions, since new problems arose and fresh approaches became necessary.-
State involvement in the economy was a salient factor in the first decades of the 20th.Century. As Epstein argues, "The growth of government is an oft-told tale, and nowhere is that growth more pronounced than in the expansion of government transfers of money, goods, and services to persons in need"[1].-
Constitutions reflected these changes by promising new rights in the labor, education, health and cultural fields (Mexico-1917; Germany -1919). Democracy was not limited to the ballot box; governments ushered in a new dialogue involving social and economic actors, as for instance, FDR’s New Deal in the early and mid-1930s, or Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ programs in the mid-1960s.-
Interestingly, the American Constitution was not amended accordingly. However, the U.S. Supreme Court became more pro-active (even ‘activist’) in subsequent decades (for instance, the Warren Court during the 1950s and 1960s).-
After the devastation caused by the Second World War (1939-1945), international documents (such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948) and domestic constitutions (Italy-1947; Germany-1949) enshrined these new social and economic rights.-

3. Professor Carlos Nino and the Argentine democratic consolidation process (1985-1989).-

The constitutional thought of Carlos Santiago Nino was pivotal in fostering a new human rights culture throughout Argentina and in many parts of the Western Hemisphere.-
Nino not only was a first-class political and legal philosopher; he also served, under President Raúl Alfonsín’s Administration, as coordinator for the ‘Council of Democratic Consolidation’.-
In that capacity, he was able to garner different opinions regarding a prospective constitutional reform process. Some of his advisers echoed his opinions on Article 14 bis of the Argentine Constitution, which tepidly recognizes social rights.-

4. The nature of Social rights.-

Nino tackles the all-important question of the true nature of social rights in his seminal work ‘Fundamentos de Derecho Constitucional’[2]. He criticizes the notion of ‘non-executing’ rights, as masking other problems. Rights are indivisible, and are ‘self-executing’ per se[3]. A theory of democratic governance which allows for a non-self executing rights doctrine is controversial and troublesome.-
The democratic political process should be able to fully implement both civil and social rights on an equal footing. Otherwise, equal protection under the law is severely compromised.-
Nino differs from other authors on the problem of the special character of social rights. Many scholars advocate increasing judicial activism on this front, so as to trigger dormant social rights clauses. By contrast, Nino points out to structural flaws in the political system and is reluctant to confer such enabling powers to non-elected officials such as judges.-
Even if social rights could lack the same bite and effect than the rest of rights, this fact does not mean that they do not exist at all. Nino thought that the solution provided by the 1978 Spanish Constitution was a valid one. This document differentiates ‘fundamental rights’ (i.e., civil and political rights) from ‘economic and social principles’. However, Article 53.3 of this Constitution states that these principles will influence legislation, judicial practice and public policy. Judicialization is a rather indirect and not straightforward process, as for example in Argentina[4].-

[1] Epstein, Richard A., "The Uncertain Quest of Welfare Rights", in Bryner, Gary C., and Reynolds, Noel B., Constitutionalism and Rights, BYU, Provo, UT, page 33.
[2] Carlos S. Nino, Fundamentos de Derecho Constitucional, Buenos Aires, Astrea, 1992, page 408.
[3] The Vienna Conference on Human Rights sponsored by the U.N. in 1993 –the very same year Nino died- arrived to similar conclusions.
[4] Carnota, Walter F., Rights and Politics in Argentine Social Security Reform’, in Australian Journal of Political Science, 44-1, page 123.
Citar: - DC1685


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