The International Association of Constitutional Law || l'Association Internationale de Droit Constitutionnel

Select your language

The Ideal City, oil and tempera on panel, attributed to Fra Carnevale (c. 1480)


The city, a complex organism characterized by high population density, has no legally recognized rights. The right of the city and the right to the city are derived from other existing rights. This understanding of the city is problematic. Urbanization continues to be on the critical path of emerging ecological, socio-economic, and political crises. Notwithstanding, city leadership in combating climate change continues to face institutional inertia.

The tension in the city’s relations with its milieu is not new. For example, the closing salvos of the 19th century attest to a farrago of issues brought about by this tension through what came to be known as the Cooley-Eaton-McQuillin thesis. The thesis recognizes an independent legal personality of cities. It was a response to the rule proposed by John Forrest Dillon, a US jurist of the late 19th century who served on federal and Iowa state courts, where he advocated state autonomy (what came to be known as the Dillon doctrine). In essence, Dillon saw the state (as a sub-national constitutional entity) as the dominant scale for political organization, while Cooley, Eaton, and McQuillin favored the city as the dominant scale. Dillon believed that city sovereignty would lead to favoring private economic interests over public ones and that only state legislative control over the city would prevent any democratic abuse. The rationale for the Dillon doctrine was that cities qua municipal corporations derived their powers and rights wholly from the State. In contrast, Michigan Supreme Court Judge Thomas McIntyre Cooley was of the view that cities have a right to self-government; and the State cannot take it away. Similarly, Amasa Mason Eaton, who was also a contemporary of Dillon and a prominent Providence attorney, advocated for the city self-government based on a rights discourse. Another US attorney, also a contemporary of Dillon and a native of the state of Iowa, Eugene McQuillin, argued against the Dillon doctrine using historical analysis to establish the independent legal personality of cities and the need for constitutional safeguards to protect city rights the way a legal person’s rights are protected.

Changes brought about by technological innovation are again focusing the spotlight on the city. First, there is a micro-level, short-term effect where the exigencies of governance are already undergoing a change in emphasis that necessitates rethinking current legal frameworks. Current regulatory schemes put emphasis on internalizing externalities (also known as external diseconomies), namely, costs affecting third parties (not parties to an economic transaction). The Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing the calculus of these diseconomies through ecologically sensitive, internet-driven technologies of what is known as the Internet of Things—the interoperation of physical devices through embedded digital connectivity to (automated) control systems across exiting infrastructure. The second effect is a macro-level, long-term (positive feedback) effect where the Fourth Industrial Revolution (through decentralization and equitable collaboration) is changing how cities should be governed (in a constitutional sense). Cities’ power is on the ascendancy thanks to the bottom-up, self-regulation mechanisms enabled by technological innovation.

Changes in the vertical tension between the city and different levels of government (at the local, sub-national, national and supra-national levels), and the horizontal tension between the city and ‘capital cities’ (on the national scale) and between the city and ‘global cities’ (on the supra-national scale) is ushering in a new world. The processes that are reshaping our world are inextricably related to the governance of cities. The relational dynamics that cities create need institutions, like constitutions, to regulate the interactions between the city and its environment, to the end of empowering the city to address the complexities of urbanization. To allow for effective management of the crises that we face today, we need to understand how legal institutions affect cities’ leadership in the global response to these crises.

Aims and objectives

We aim to create an inclusive forum for an open interdisciplinary dialogue on the constitutional role of cities in the 21st century. It is envisaged that through this forum, academics, policymakers, non-state actors, and other stakeholders can exchange ideas on city governance to address the challenges faced by cities due political, ecological, and socio-economic crises, and the opportunities brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


The research group stimulates research collaboration through IACL World Congress workshops. The group also organizes seminars, publishes research output, and educates the general public on the governance of cities.


  • Judge David J. Barron
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Judicial Assistant to the Honorable David J. Barron)
  • David Barron was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in May 2014. He graduated from Harvard College in 1989 and Harvard Law School in 1994. From 1989 to 1991, he worked as a newspaper reporter. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, from 1994 to 1995, and for Justice John Paul Stevens of the United States Supreme Court, from 1995 to 1996. He then worked as an attorney advisor for the Office of Legal Counsel of the United States Department of Justice, from 1996 to 1999. In 1999, He became an Assistant Professor at Harvard Law School and a full Professor at Harvard Law School in 2004, where he worked until he rejoined the Justice Department as Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, from 2009 to 2010. He then returned to the Harvard Law School faculty in 2010, where he was named the S. William Green Professor of Public Law in 2011, and worked until his appointment to the federal bench in 2014. He continues to teach at Harvard Law School as the Louis D. Brandeis Visiting Professor of Law. Among his books are City Bound, with Jerry Frug, and Waging War which won the Colby Award. His articles on the role of cities in the American legal system have appeared in the Harvard law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. He is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences.


  • Ben Gussen
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Ben Gussen is a tenured constitutional jurist at the Swinburne School of Law, Melbourne, Victoria (Australia). He was admitted to the legal profession in New Zealand in 2011, and in Australia in 2014. His research interests focus on the application of complexity theory to the analysis of legal systems. His latest monographs are Axial Shift: City Subsidiarity and the World System in the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) and Sharing Cities 2020: A Case-Based Approach (Springer Nature, 2020), co-edited with Iris Wang and Hideaki Ninomiya.
  • Professor Marius Pieterse
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Marius Pieterse is a professor in the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he mostly teaches constitutional and human rights law. His research focuses on urban governance, local government law and the realisation of socio-economic rights, specifically in an urban context. Marius is the author of Rights-based Litigation, Urban Governance and Social Justice in South Africa: The right to Joburg (Routledge, 2017); Can Rights Cure? The Impact of Human Rights Litigation on South Africa's Health System (PULP, 2014) as well as a large number of peer reviewed academic journal articles on different aspects of rights-based litigation, socio-economic rights, urban governance, the right to health, the right to equality and the relationship between law and urban space. He is joint global coordinator of the International Research Group of Law and Urban Space (IRGLUS).

Founding members

Professor Richard Albert
William Stamps Farish Professor in Law, University of Texas Law School, USA

Dr. Erika Arban
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Laureate Program in Comparative Constitutional Law, Melbourne Law School, Australia

Honorable David J. Barron
Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Louis D. Brandeis Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, USA

Dr. Angela van der Berg
Director of Global Environmental Law Centre, University of Western Cape, South Africa

Dr. Giovanni Boggero
Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law, Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy

Michael Castle-Miller
Governance Consultant, Politas Consulting, Founder and Executive Director of Refugee Cities, USA

Professor Tinashe Carlton Chigwata
Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights, University of the West Cape, South Africa

Thomas Coggin
University of Witwatersrand, School of Law, South Africa, fellow, Urban Law Centre at Fordham University, USA

Professor Alberto Cruces Burga
Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Peru

Dr. Adriano Dirri
Dipartimento di Giurisprudenza, Università degli Studi di Roma ‘La Sapienza’, Italy

Professor Jackie Dugard
University of Witwatersrand, School of Law, South Africa 

Professor Jörg M Fedtke
A.N. Yiannopoulos Professor in Comparative Law, Co-Director, Eason-Weinmann Center for Comparative Law, Tulane University, USA

Professor Warren Freedman
University of Kwazulu-Natal, School of Law, South Africa

Professor Oliver Fuo
North West University, Faculty of Law, South Africa

Professor Jim Gardner
SUNY Distinguished Professor, Bridget and Thomas Black Professor, SUNY at Buffalo School of Law, USA

Dr. Kristin Good
Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator, Department of Political Science, Dalhousie University, Canada 

Dr. Ben Gussen
Swinburne Law School, Australia

Professor Antonio María Hernández
National University of Córdoba, School of Law, Argentina

Professor Ran Hirschl
Professor of Government & Earl E. Sheffield Regents Chair in Law, The University of Texas at Austin, USA

Professor Marie Huchzermeyer
University of Witwatersrand, School of Architecture and Planning, South Africa

Karl Kössler
Senior Researcher, Institute for Comparative Federalism, Eurac Research, Bolzano/Bozen, Italy

Dr. Ming-Sung Kuo
Associate Professor, University of Warwick Law School, UK

Kurtis Lockhart
Head of Research, Charter Cities Institute, USA

Professor Marius Pieterse
University of the Witwatersrand, School of Law, South Africa

Professor Richard Schragger
Perre Bowen Professor of Law, Martha Lubin Karsh and Bruce A. Karsh Bicentennial Professor of Law, Senior Fellow, Miller Center, University of Virginia School of Law, USA

Professor José María Serna de la Garza
Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas de la UNAM, Mexico

Professor Jo Shaw
The University of Edinburgh Law School, UK

Professor Igor Stiks
Faculty of Media and Communications, Singidunum University, Belgrade, Serbia / Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Isolde De Villiers
University of Free State, Department of Mercantile Law, South Africa

Dr. Maartje De Visser
Associate Professor of Law, School of Law, Singapore Management University, Singapore