Colombia’s Constitution of 1991 is an ambitious text which tries to strike a balance between laying a strong foundation for economic modernization and liberalization, on the one hand, and the creation of a Social State of Law and the protection of an impressive list of constitutional rights, on the other. Because of the doctrine that has been developed by the Constitutional Court since then, it has been considered as one of the most activist courts worldwide, next to courts such as the South African court. One of the factors that has thereby complicated its task is the fact that, since the 1990s, the government has actively multiplied its international economic commitments.
In this article, case law of the Colombian Constitutional Court is analyzed, with a focus on balancing: (a) between the binding character of (regional and bilateral) free trade commitments and the constitutional competences of the sub-national level, and (b) between international free trade commitments and the protection of constitutional social rights. Both cases shed light on the balancing task of the court in a complex international context, in the presence of a multi-level regulatory architecture.
See, J. Dickson, ‘Interpretation and Coherence in Legal Reasoning’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Stanford, 2001), http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/legal-reas-interpret/, and A. Marmor, Interpretación y teoría del derecho (Barcelona: Gedisa, 2000) 87.
P. Comanducci, ibid. 91; L. Prieto, ‘El constitucionalismo de los derechos’, Revista Española de Derecho Constitucional, 24(71) (2004) 61.
Orunesu, ibid. 326.
Stone Sweet and Mathews, ibid. 74–5, 85–7; R. Uprimny and M. García, ‘The Constitutional Court and Social Emancipation in Colombia’, in: B. De Sousa Santos (ed), Democratizing Democracy: Beyond the Liberal Democratic Canon (London: Verso, 2001) 66–100.
See, L. Prieto Sanchis, ‘El constitucionalismo de los derechos’, Revista Española de Derecho Constitucional, 24 (71) (2004) 55.
See, Stone Sweet and Mathews, ibid. 76–7; and Prieto (2000), ibid. 180. The test of necessity corresponds to the ‘strict scrutiny’ test in us case law, where it is one of the most controversial issues of judicial review (Stone Sweet and Mathews, ibid. 79–80).
See, R. Alexy, Theory of Constitutional Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) 310, 396; quoted by M. Klatt, ‘Taking Rights Less Seriously. A Structural Analysis of Judicial Discretion’, Ratio Juris, 20(4) (2007) 516. This approach is based on the three scenarios suggested by Alexy’s theory concerning the relation between constitution and legislature (Alexy, ibid. 391, quoted by Klatt, ibid. 515), but it is applied to the relation between judges and the law. In the first scenario, the law does not provide specific prohibitions to the judiciary, i.e. discretion is unlimited. This is ‘the pure procedural model of judicial discretion’, defended by the ‘radical skeptic perspective’ which ignores the enforcement of rights. In the second scenario, the ‘pure substantive model’, the law limits all the possible decisions impeding discretion. This corresponds to Dworkin’s ‘theory of the only right answer’. The third scenario, the ‘substantive-procedural model’, is located in-between the previous two scenarios. Hart’s theory of hard and easy cases fits in this scenario, because this model states that some decisions are ‘prescribed’, others ‘prohibited’ and others are ‘neither prescribed nor prohibited’.
García A. (2006a), ibid. 170–172; (2007), ibid. 2–4.
Bomhoff, ibid. 3.
Stone Sweet and Mathews, ibid. 113, 161.
See, K. Stack, ‘The Divergence of Constitutional and Statutory Interpretation’, University of Colorado Law Review, 75(1) (2004); Iglesias, ibid.; A. Marmor, ‘Constitutional Interpretation’, Public Policy Research Papers Series, University of Southern California Law School, (04–4) (2004); Cea, ibid.
Bomhoff, ibid. 31–33. For a comparative analysis of constitutional adjudication and balancing, see Bomhoff, ibid. and M.V. Tushnet, ‘Weak Courts? Strong Rights/ Judicial Review and Social Welfare Rights’, in: Comparative Constitutional Law, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
Bomhoff, ibid. 5–6.
Stone Sweet and Mathews, ibid. 74–75.
See, D. Landau, ‘The Two Discourses in Colombian Constitutional Jurisprudence: a New Approach to modeling Judicial Behavior in Latin America’, George Washington International Law Review, (2005); D. López, El Derecho de los Jueces, (Bogotá: Editorial Legis, 2000); Cepeda, ibid.; L. Lizarazo, ‘Constitutional Adjudication in Colombia: Avant-garde or Case Law Transplant? A Literature Review’, Revista Estudios Socio-Jurídicos, 13(1) (2011).
See, S. Clavijo, ‘Fallos y fallas económicas de las altas cortes: el caso de Colombia 1991–2000’, Revista de Derecho Público, (12) (2001) 27–66; S. Clavijo, Descifrando la ‘Nueva’ Corte Constitucional, (Bogotá: Libros de Cambio Alfaomega Colombiana, 2004a); S. Clavijo, ‘Impacto económico de algunas sentencias de la Corte: El caso de la mesada pensional 14 y de las regulaciones de vivienda’, (2004b), [http://www.banrep.gov.co/junta/publicaciones/Clavijo/corte0904.pdf]; M. Kugler and H. Rosenthal, ‘Checks and balances: an assessment of the institutional separation of political powers in Colombia’, Institutional Reforms, the Case of Colombia, (Massachussets: mit press, 2005).
Araujo, ibid. 859, 868, 871; see also Uprimny and Rodríguez, ibid. 6–7. The Court places the goals of the Legal Social State at the top in any constitutional interpretation and they are given preference over other principles such as the respect for private rights (López (2006), ibid. 49–50.
Araujo, ibid. 871–872. The use of the criterion of efficiency is also considered as discretionary (Araujo, ibid. 875).
Araujo, ibid. 873–874, 877.
L. Conesa, ‘The Tropicalization of Proportionality Balancing: The Colombian and Mexican Examples’, Cornell Law School LL.M. Paper Series(13) (2008) 8.