Harvard Law School alumna, Philippa Greer HLS LL.M. ’14 has been appointed to clerk for South Africa’s top judicial body, the Constitutional Court, for the latter half of 2015, in a position offered to no more than a handful of lawyers around the world each year. She has been selected to clerk for the Chief Justice, having been chosen from a high number of applicants from across the globe. Her interests lie in strategic litigation and international law. She writes:

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Philippa Greer HLS LL.M. ’14

“I am both thrilled and humbled to contribute to the Court, whose holdings adopt a progressive and transformative approach to law and equality. South Africa is a development State and certainly faces vast resource challenges in making the rights of the Constitution a reality for all. Yet its Constitutional democracy and the Court’s recent reforms to institutionalize the role of the judicial branch as independent from South Africa’s executive arm, have ushered in a new era, characterized by the rule of law and fundamental dignity for all human beings.

In my position as a Law Clerk to the Chief Justice, I will deepen my understanding of the practical barriers to the implementation of international human rights standards. Since assuming my position at the Court, I have been exposed to a number of high-profile cases, including Legal Aid SA v. Magidiwana, which concerns the right to legal aid and access to justice, specifically with respect to the legal representation of miners at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.

The Constitutional Court represents transformation in South Africa and the hope of and for a people, in the wake of recovery from a system of racial segregation enforced through law. The recent history of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a restorative justice body assembled to address the gross human rights violations that occurred between 1948 to 1994, South Africa’s Constitutional democracy, its Bill of Rights and its standing on the African continent, combine to offer a particularly complex background to the law and positioning of the apex court.

The Court stands as a memorial to courage and the Court building itself as a moving architectural tribute to the fight against apartheid. Everything from the Court’s judgments to its artwork is distinctive and multifaceted, in recognition of a particular history and hope for further transformation. In the foyer of the Court stands a sculpture by Thomas Mulcaire bearing the words “a luta continua” lit up in projection of the meaning “the struggle continues, victory is certain”. Former Justice Albie Sachs, appointed to the Court by Nelson Mandela in 1994, played a leading role in selecting the Court’s diverse artwork, the first public collection of its kind post apartheid. As a result, the building presents a particularly inspiring physical space to work in.

There are major distinctions to be drawn with the United States Supreme Court, and a comparative analysis can be made with regard to the each Court’s jurisprudence on the death penalty, gender equality, affirmative action, freedom of expression and religion, and socioeconomic rights. For example, despite the racial and geographic arbitrariness of the death penalty in the United States, punishment for the sake of retribution remains permissible under the Eighth Amendment. In 1995, in S v Makwanyane, despite evidence that many South Africans favored the death penalty, the Constitutional Court ruled that it was unconstitutional, with former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson citing capital punishment as an example that should be rejected in light of its disparate impact along racial and poverty lines.

If we contrast this “dignity jurisprudence” to the continued use of capital punishment in the United States, for example in Louisiana where the death penalty is confined predominantly to African-American men prosecuted in Caddo Parish in particular, we can see how the Constitutional Court in South Africa has attracted international acclaim and how it serves as a model for the world’s other Constitutions.”

While Philippa was still a student at Harvard Law School, she participated in Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic and held editorial positions on the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review and the Harvard Human Rights Journal, as well as serving as a Board Member of Harvard Law School’s Moot Court Board.

Filed in: Alumni Profiles, Clinical Spotlight

Tags: International Human Rights Clinic

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