Political Scientist and Legal Scholar Donald Kommers Receives Mellon Fellowship

December 13, 2011 • Joanna Basile

Donald Kommers

Can a newly minted constitution help revive a people devastated by war? Can it produce a deliberative democracy and respect for human rights? Can it provide a foundation for political loyalty and facilitate the reunification of a divided nation?

These are questions University of Notre Dame political scientist and legal scholar Donald Kommers seeks to answer in his study of the creation, maintenance, and legitimacy of Germany’s postwar constitutional order, for which he has been awarded a yearlong Emeritus Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Emeritus Fellowships honor faculty across the United States who, after their official retirements, continue “active and productive” scholarship in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Kommers, Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Political Science and professor of law emeritus, specializes in constitutional law and politics in modern democracies, church-state relations, and German politics and society—and has spent several years of his academic life in Germany.

His Mellon-funded project will examine the country’s constitution, called the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, within the framework of Germany’s political development from 1949 to the present.

“The project builds on the contemporary literature of higher law-making and constitutional governance in advanced democracies,” Kommers says. “While its focus is Germany—emphasizing its changing constitutional identity over the decades—it also responds to the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Bridging Cultures initiative by the comparisons it seeks to draw with aspects of the American constitutional experience, ranging from the Philadelphia convention to contemporary debates over the nature and scope of American constitutionalism.”

Additionally, he says, he will assess the current state of Germany’s constitutional culture and the extent to which the Basic Law has served as an instrument of political education in the promotion of democratic values, political civility, and good citizenship.

“This project seeks to explain the longevity of the Basic Law and why it has survived the vicissitudes of domestic and international politics,” he says. “Over the decades, the Basic Law has developed into one of the world’s most influential constitutions—even rivaling the U.S. Constitution as a leading model of constitutional governance around the world.”

During his career in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, Kommers has received grants and fellowships from, among others, the Rockefeller Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, German Marshall Fund of the United States, and the American Academy of Berlin. In November 2010, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany; he also holds two honorary doctorates, one from Germany’s Heidelberg University. Most recently, he co-authored the two-volume book American Constitutional Law: Essays, Cases, and Comparative Notes. In 2012, Duke University Press will publish the third edition of his book Constitutional Jurisprudence of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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