Justice Leona Theron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa visits Notre Dame Law School

Author: Denise Wager

Leona Theron
Justice Leona Theron

Notre Dame Law School hosted Justice Leona Theron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa on April 13-14.

Justice Theron began her judicial career in 1999, when she was appointed Judge of the Kwazulu-Natal Division of the High Court of South Africa. At the age of 32, she was the youngest judge in the country and the first Black female judge in that division of the High Court. After serving in the High Court for 11 years, she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, and in 2017 she was appointed to the Constitutional Court.

In her public lecture, “Reflections on the South African Constitution,” Justice Theron discussed the evolving jurisprudence of the South African Constitution and the role of the Constitutional Court in effecting the transformative promise of the constitution for the South African people. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, signed into law by President Nelson Mandela, is considered among the most progressive and comparatively influential constitutions. It contains a Bill of Rights that expressly protects the rights to life, equality and human dignity, justiciable socio-economic rights, prohibits forms of discrimination, and provides for the direct and indirect application of rights to state and private actors. It further promotes the application of international law and foreign law in interpreting rights, making the South African Constitutional Court one the most comparative courts.

Justice Theron also met with LL.M. and J.S.D. students in the International Human Rights Law Program and students in the Women’s Legal Forum. She reflected on her legal career and experience as a Black woman in South Africa.

Rushaan Booysen, an LL.M. student from South Africa, said, “As a former clerk of the Constitutional Court and a young Black female lawyer in South Africa, it was an honor and inspiration to hear Justice Theron’s story of perseverance and determination. Justice Theron overcame great odds as a young Black woman in South Africa during the apartheid era, which neither favored a woman much less a Black person. She shared how she overcame these challenges by working hard. Justice Theron’s visit has solidified my commitment to ensuring that everyone enjoys the fulfillment of human rights and justice.”

As part of the Global Lawyering Initiative, Notre Dame Law School has significantly enhanced its program for visiting scholars and jurists this academic year. The Law School hosted more than a dozen eminent lecturers to engage with the students and faculty, with many offering module courses for credit to law students. More than 20 visitors are expected in 2023-24.