Washington International Law Journal


Po Jen Yap


Constitutional landscapes in Asia are littered with fig leaves. These proverbial fig leaves are legal principles, doctrines, and theories of interpretation that judges appeal to when resolving constitutional disputes. This article uncovers and examines three constitutional fig leaves that are prevalent and flourishing in Asia: 1) formalism and its conceptual variants; 2) the exercise of judicial review that is merely symbolic; and 3) the invocation of vacuous constitutional doctrines. This article further argues that judicial recourse to fig leaves is not intended to deceive anyone about what courts are doing; the fig leaves are on public display merely to demonstrate that judges accept the role they are expected to play within their political systems. For better or worse, it would appear that Asian judges believe that these fig leaves are necessary to legitimize their actions, and, insofar as Asian judges are doing very little, these legal loincloths are vital to preserve judges’ modesties.

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