About

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Christina is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. She studies constitutional theory, American and comparative constitutionalism, and the history of political thought. Her book, Constitutionalizing the Private Sphere, on the horizontal application of rights to non-state actors is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. She has taught at Clemson University and received her doctorate in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.

Research

Book manuscript (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press)

Christina’s book manuscript, Constitutionalizing the Private Sphere, studies shifting understandings of public and private in comparative constitutionalism, specifically in the United States, Germany, India, South Africa, and the European Union. Jurists have traditionally understood the constitution as a separate kind of law that obligates only the state. However, courts increasingly understand constitutions as creating obligations for private entities such as private individuals, businesses, schools, and hospitals. For example, the South African Constitutional Court decided in 2017 that landlords have a constitutional duty to ensure their tenants live in conditions consonant with human dignity. Similar questions arise even in the United States, which historically has resisted the idea that constitutional rights bind private individuals. For example, the Supreme Court has found itself asking questions such as whether a Christian baker must bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The practice of applying rights “horizontally” to private actors raises a range of questions from the theoretical to the practical and from the jurisprudential to the political.

Christina draws on constitutional debates, court cases, and political histories to argue that this development of horizontal effect reflects a republican intervention (as in, classical republican political theory) in constitutionalism, so altering the politics surrounding rights accordingly. While the conventional liberal narrative emphasizes the rights of individuals, horizontal effect builds a catalogue of individual duties as well, corresponding to the commitments and aspirations of a given constitutional order. In addition to examining constitutional histories, therefore, this research draws on classical and contemporary republican political theory.

This project is the first book-length effort to understand the practice of horizontal effect in terms of political theory, and only the second comparative monograph in political science on the subject. In accounting for the practical power of constitutional politics to shape the rights and duties of private entities, this research contributes to our knowledge of how governments act on conceptions of public and private in an increasingly pluralistic world.

Articles

“Neither Precisely National Nor Precisely Federal”: Governmental and Administrative Authority in Tocqueville’s Democracy in AmericaPublius: The Journal of Federalism, Volume 48, Issue 4, 1 September 2018, Pages 586–606, DOI: 10.1093/publius/pjy030.  View article online.

Tocqueville’s insights on local politics in Democracy in America have led some scholars to ask where he fits into longstanding debates about the balance of power between the national government and state governments in American constitutionalism. Although Tocqueville’s observations speak to these questions, he also transcends them by developing the concepts of governmental and administrative (de)centralization. In differentiating governmental and administrative capacities, Tocqueville offers language by which to understand and evaluate the federal system in terms of the nature of the authority each level of government exercises, rather than simply by the objects of national, state, and municipal powers. The purpose of this article is to clarify Tocqueville’s understanding of governmental and administrative (de)centralization and thereby contribute to a better understanding of political authority in the American federal system.

Horizontal Rights: A Republican Vein in Liberal Constitutionalism. Polity, Volume 52, Issue 3, July 2020, Pages 401-429, DOI: 10.1086/709494. View article online.

While liberal constitutional theory typically understands constitutions as establishing vertical arrangements in which governments protect individual rights, some courts have introduced doctrines of horizontal effect, holding private bodies responsible for the rights of others, as well. This article argues that we can understand such horizontal rights as a republican vein in the tradition of liberal constitutionalism. While the conventional liberal narrative emphasizes the rights of individuals, horizontal effect builds a catalogue of individual duties as well, corresponding to the commitments and aspirations of a given constitutional order. This article draws on classical and contemporary republican political theory, as well as cases from Germany, India, and South Africa, to demonstrate how the structure of and arguments for horizontal rights reflect proclivities and track commitments associated with republicanism. Though the fact of a republican streak in these rights need not make them antithetical to existing understandings of constitutionalism, it does admit the distinctive potential of horizontal rights to alter elements of the conventional narratives, about the nature, purpose, and limits of constitutionalism.

The Promise of Virtue, Old and New: On Building Bridges in Contemporary Politics. Political Science Reviewer. Volume 47, Issue 2, 8 November 2023. View article online.

In response to communitarian critiques, liberal theorists have argued that liberal thought and politics is not neutral, but rather depends on certain liberal virtues. Can such theories of liberal virtue respond to today’s post-liberal and progressive critics of liberalism? This paper argues that as long as theories of liberal virtues hold autonomy as their animating principle–while remaining agnostic on questions of the human good–they are ill-equipped to respond to today’s critics of liberalism. In contrast, earlier instances of liberal thought, such as those we find in many American founders’ thinking, build on the fundamentals of classical virtues, a position that coheres well with much of postliberal thinking. These liberal-classical accounts of virtue, I argue, offer a more thorough justification for liberalism to those who find themselves outside the liberal tent. The paper concludes by addressing various objections to these kinds of virtues, including the position that advancing any virtues is coterminous with authoritarian perfectionism and paternalism. In sum, liberals today would do well to look beyond a neutral or subjective autonomy, unsatisfying to several powerful movements within our society, and advance a broader conversation about human virtue.

The Past, Present, and Future of Constitutional Identity in Deciphering the Genome of Constitutionalism: Essays on Constitutional Identity in Honor of Gary Jacobsohn (with Connor Ewing), Ed. Ran Hirschl and Yaniv Roznai. Forthcoming.

We identify two potent contributions of the concept of constitutional identity, underscoring and exploring its relationship with the associated ideas of disharmony and difference. We first discuss the relationship between constitutional identity and constitutional development, before turning to lessons that the concept of constitutional identity offers both scholars and practitioners. Against this background, we then identify three promising areas for future scholarly reflection and briefly sketch the first steps of a research agenda oriented towards carrying forward the project limned in this volume. Inspired by the analytic purpose underlying the concept of constitutional identity, our comments in this section are intended to be less prescriptive than interpretive. The scholarly futures we discuss emerge as much from the political world in which constitutional governance must now proceed as from the progress that scholars have made towards understanding the aspirations of that enterprise.

Meeting of the Minds: Reshaping Citizens’ Rights and Duties. (with Maureen Stobb). In submission.

In a post-Covid world, what duties citizens owe one another is of pressing concern. Historically, government actors are responsible for constitutional rights and accountable for their violation. However, constitution-makers and courts are increasingly introducing constitutional duties for private actors as well. This practice (known as horizontal application) presupposes the juridical unity of the entire legal order, and is therefore a major shift in the constitutional terrain. This paper provides the first multi-method, cross-national examination of this phenomenon. It argues that the process of constitution-making is key to explaining this development. Horizontality is more likely when there is a meeting of the minds, or mutual commitments from a broad cross-section of society expressed at the negotiating table in an inclusive process, and under low-conflict circumstances. Our findings support this theory, suggesting that the powerful articulation of interests by expert professionals is a significant factor in the trend to reshape citizen duties.

CV

Download Christina’s CV.

Teaching

Christina has designed and taught different undergraduate and graduate courses in political science focusing on constitutionalism and political theory. She views her concentration on constitutional rights as offering an important opportunity to educate students about their own rights and duties in a constitutional democracy. As a graduate student, Christina was chosen to receive the University of Texas Liberal Arts Council’s Excellence in Teaching Award. Read her interview with the American Political Science Association about teaching and her contribution to APSA’s RAISE the Vote Campaign.

Constitutional Principles.  Syllabus.

Course Description: In Federalist 1 Alexander Hamilton describes the project of the American framers to establish a constitution through “reflection and choice” rather than “accident and force.” Ultimately the 1787 Constitution was a product of extensive compromise, as different philosophical and political commitments informed the kinds of choices that different camps would pursue for the young country.

In this class we study the political philosophical traditions that shaped the constitutional debates and eventually the American constitutional order. In particular, we look at the republican tradition as represented by Aristotle, and the liberal tradition as represented by John Locke. After gaining some familiarity with these thinkers, we can begin to understand the commitments and preoccupations of the American Federalists and Anti-Federalists when we read the ratification debates. Finally, in studying Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations of the Early Republic, we see that these philosophical traditions and corresponding constitutional choices have consequences beyond the Constitution’s text. Even today these traditions continue to animate and define life in the American polity.

That the Constitution was the result of compromise is evident throughout the class. Most strikingly, America’s original sin of slavery poses vital challenges to many of the ideals and commitments we encounter in studying the Constitution’s foundations. Moreover, even those values that do seem to coexist productively sometimes collide–equality vs. liberty, security vs. local autonomy, democracy vs. individual rights. The framers sought to create a Constitution from reflection and choice. With the diversity of commitments and ideas informing the American constitutional order, however, perhaps the best we can hope for is a Constitution of constant striving, but never fully realized.

 

Rights: Theory, Practice, and Debates

Course Description: It’s a free country! It’s my right! How many times have you heard these expressions? How many times have you used them? From these playground taunts to more serious appeals in public fora, the language of rights pervades American discourse today. This may be a virtue if this rights-consciousness results in a more just society. But it may be counterproductive as well. People may resort to “rights talk” at the expense of reasoned argument, preventing understanding or dialogue with others who seem to disagree. Moreover, emphasizing rights may distract from thinking about our duties as citizens or even as human beings.

If we are going to discuss and debate rights as much as we do, we should know something about them. Arguably, we should know something about their history, their status in law, and the important questions concerning rights that are up for debate even today. In this class, we will read many of the essential texts from the history of political thought and constitutional law. Ultimately, we take up a variety of questions about rights that remain open for debate. Where do we think rights come from? How do we find rights in law? Can rights ever be limited or taken away? Are there limits to what the concept of rights can accomplish? After the first two sections of the course, we will be prepared to weigh in on these big questions, and even offer some answers.