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Professor Mathews’ new book explores ‘Constitutions, Private Law, and Judicial Power’

Published by Oxford University Press, the book explores how constitutional rights reshape legal relations among private parties in different jurisdictions.
Professor Mathews presenting on his book

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A new book by Penn State Law Associate Professor of Law Jud Mathews explores how constitutional rights reshape legal relations among private parties in different jurisdictions. Extending Rights’ Reach: Constitutions, Private Law, and Judicial Power was published this month by Oxford University Press.

Constitutional rights protect individuals against government overreach—a vertical effect, Mathews writes, but they can also regulate citizen-to-citizen relationships otherwise governed by private law—a horizontal effect.

“In every constitutional system with judicially enforceable constitutional rights, courts must make choices about whether, when, and how to give those rights horizontal effect,” he writes.  “Few courts take the position that constitutional rights can never affect the legal obligations private parties owe to one another in any way. At the same time, no court handles constitutional rights claims against private parties and government actors exactly the same across the board. Courts must develop special doctrines to define and manage the horizontal effect of constitutional rights.”

Extending Rights’ Reach examines how different courts make these choices and the consequences that they have. With case studies from Canada, Germany, and the United States, the book provides a detailed account of the horizontal effect jurisprudence of each country’s highest court—not in isolation, but as a central feature of a broader account of the country’s constitutional development. The case studies show how the choices courts make about horizontal rights reflect existing normative and political realities and, over time, help to shape new ones.

“The choices courts make in this area are as consequential as any that courts ever make,” Mathews writes, arguing that these choices “profoundly shape the course of constitutional development in a legal system.”

The book is based on Mathews’ doctoral thesis, which won the American Political Science Association’s 2016 Edwin S. Corwin Award for the best doctoral dissertation in the field of public law.

Mathews' scholarship brings a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to questions of public law. He has written extensively about techniques of constitutional rights adjudication, in the United States and in other jurisdictions, and in particular about proportionality review. His scholarship in administrative law has explored, among other topics, the political economy of judicial deference doctrines and the tensions between administrative law and democratic theory.

Prior to joining Penn State Law, Mathews was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Law. After law school, he worked as a law clerk for Judge Guido Calabresi on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 

He holds a Ph.D. and J.D. from Yale University and an A.B. from Princeton University.

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