Adam Chilton Wins International Society of Public Law’s Top Honor for 'How Constitutional Rights Matter'

Professor Adam Chilton and a coauthor won the International Society of Public Law’s 2021 book prize for How Constitutional Rights Matter (Oxford University Press, 2020), a volume that builds on years of research into human rights effectiveness. The annual prize recognizes outstanding books in the field of public law. It was awarded during the closing ceremony of the society’s annual conference, which featured 272 sessions and brought together 1,500 public law scholars from around the world. 

How Constitutional Rights Matter examines why some constitutional rights are harder to violate than others. It is part of an ongoing project by Chilton and his longtime collaborator, Mila Versteeg, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Through their work, which draws on survey experiments, statistical analyses, and case studies from around the world, Chilton and Versteeg found that whether a particular constitutional right is enforced has more to do with who is invested in the right, rather than the type of government enforcing it.

For instance, they found, both democracies and autocracies are more likely to honor religious freedom, the right to unionize, and the right to form political parties—all of which are practiced within organizations with a vested interest in their protections. At the same time, both regime types are less likely to honor individual rights like freedom of speech or the prohibition against torture, which generally aren’t exercised within organized groups.

“I am incredibly honored that our book received this award,” said Chilton, whose work often centers on international law, comparative law, and empirical legal studies. “Mila and I began researching the effect of constitutional rights after a conversation at dinner following one of our school’s law and economics workshops in the fall of 2013. In the years since then, we’ve received incredible support from the University of Chicago Law School community, the University of Virginia School of Law community, and scholars around the world. I’m also particularly grateful to all the people living in countries with authoritarian regimes that were willing to help with our research on how constitutional rights that protect organizations can help to push back against government oppression.”