Seminar Returns to Argentina with Gender and Equality Focus

Legal scholars from Yale Law School and 14 countries convened in Buenos Aires in June for the 24th annual Seminario en Latinoamérica de Teoría Constitutional y Política, or SELA, this year addressing the topic of gender and equality.

The seminar brought together more than 120 scholars from Latin America, the United States, and Spain to present and debate academic papers. Participants from Yale Law School included Carol Rose, George Priest, Robert Post ’77, Reva Siegel ’86, Owen Fiss, Daniel Markovits ’00, Douglas NeJaime, Paul Kahn ’80, Teresa Miguel-Stearns, Gordon Silverstein, Sara Lulo, and Mindy Roseman. A number of the seminar’s co-sponsors in Buenos Aires also drew on SELA participants to give workshops and lectures at their law schools.

The organizing committee of SELA chose this year’s theme to reflect increased attention on gender-based violence and discrimination in Latin America and to highlight Argentina’s leading role in the fight against them. Argentina was the focus of several panels, including one that explored the country’s pioneering 2012 law on the right to self-perceived gender identity. The law, which many have called the most progressive in the world, allows people to change their gender on official documents without first obtaining a psychiatric diagnosis or surgery. This law largely drew from the human rights discourse developed in Argentina after its return to democracy in the 1980s and 90s.

The controversies and disputes surrounding abortion in the region were discussed in multiple panels. Reva Siegel and Douglas NeJaime presented their work on reproductive rights and LGBT rights in the session “Global Conscience Wars” at SELA and at the University of Palermo. Another session covered Chile’s narrowly passed 2017 law and Argentina’s narrowly defeated 2018 bill to legalize abortion in case of rape, disability, or danger to the woman’s life. Scholars also devoted special attention to efforts to combat sexual harassment in the university, the toll on the quality of our democracies that gender violence and discrimination take, and the advantages and drawbacks of various legal strategies for better rights protection.

Political developments in the region were another topic of discussion. Attendees discussed issues in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela in a session featuring José Ignacio Hernández, a Venezuelan lawyer in the cabinet of Juan Guiadó. The presentations on Mexico and Brazil focused on the first months of those countries’ new presidents, while the panels on Argentina addressed the difficult path to reelection that lies ahead for President Mauricio Macri.

Carlos Rosenkrantz ’87 LLM, ’89 JSD, President of the Argentine Supreme Court, gave the Robert A. Burt Keynote Lecture. Rosenkrantz argued for a model of constitutional adjudication that resists the temptation to borrow methods, tests, or practices from other constitutional or international courts in order to constrain itself more tightly to the strictures of reason in the context of its own jurisdiction and history. The talk is named for the late Yale Law School Professor and SELA co-founder Robert A. Burt ’64 LL.B., who “tried harder than anyone else at SELA to understand Latin Americans,” according to Rosencrantz.

On June 4, Professor Paul Kahn participated in a discussion at the Argentine Senate commemorating the 25th anniversary of the constitutional reforms that sealed the country’s transition to democracy. Later, Professor Owen Fiss visited Argentine President Macri at Los Olivos, the presidential residence, to commemorate Fiss’s first trip to Argentina in 1986. On the first visit, Carlos Nino, head of then-President Raúl Alfonsín’s commission on democratic reforms, invited Fiss and other scholars to meet the President and observe the trials of the military junta leaders for crimes committed during the dictatorship.

Teresa Miguel-Stearns held a parallel workshop during SELA for Latin American law librarians with ten participants from three countries. The workshop, now its third year, has created a regional network to promote best practices to address the evolving research needs of legal scholars. On June 5, she led an additional seminar on legal research at the law library of Torcuato di Tella University.

SELA is an annual seminar that brings together scholars from the Americas and Spain to present papers on a specific theme, later published in a book, and discuss them in a series of panels. Started in 1995, SELA was created to help deepen the understanding of complex theoretical issues, to model a discussion-oriented form of intellectual discourse, and to create a venue for the formation of a professional community in Latin America. The seminar provides leading researchers an opportunity to learn from and collaborate with other experts who share their commitment to democratic principles and values.