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Former Colombian Constitutional Court Justice and Prominent Constitutional Law Scholar Joins Dayton Law Faculty

Professor Carlos Bernal has authored important decisions as a Colombian Constitutional Court Justice, and his legal writings have been cited by scholars across the world, but his focus has always been on those who may never read a word of what he writes but will still have a deep understanding of what it means because of the improvements it brought about.

“What I like about law is its tangible impact,” Professor Bernal says. “The possibility that ideas I write about can influence the real world and improve life for real people.”

In this respect, Professor Bernal highlights the relevance of Constitutional law in fulfilling the rights of citizens, particularly, the most vulnerable citizens. Now in academia, Professor Bernal’s task is to impart to students the same passion for the law that animated his decisions as a Constitutional Court justice.

“It’s important for students to know the rules for the bar exam,” Professor Bernal says. “But beyond that they need to learn the principles behind those rules. Law students should sharply develop the skill of critical analysis. This is the only way they can contribute to improving legal institutions.”

Professor Bernal joined the faculty at the University of Dayton School of Law in August after stepping down from the Colombian Constitutional Court. Upon leaving, he was awarded the country’s highest peacetime honor, the Order of Boyaca.

“For me it was a surprise and a beautiful acknowledgement of all the work I did along with the 22 committed clerks and deputy justices who served with me in my chambers,” Professor Bernal says.

The award and the opportunity to serve as a Justice were more than Professor Bernal could have ever imagined when he decided to study law in part because his father was a lawyer.

“I was very close to my father,” Professor Bernal says. “He taught me to be hungry for justice.”

Professor Bernal is widely known for his expertise in constitutional law. According to Google Scholar, he is one of the top three most cited constitutional theory scholars in the world.

“We are very fortunate to have Justice Bernal at Dayton Law,” says School of Law Dean Andrew Strauss. “I think it says a great deal about our law school that he could have probably gone almost anywhere in the United States, and he chose to join our faculty.”

Professor Bernal's interest in constitutional law started early in law school. He and his classmates arrived at law school as their country was drafting the Political Constitution of Colombia of 1991. Professor Bernal loved discussing the ideas put forth in that constitution.

“Constitutional law involves a very interesting interaction between the exercise of public power, on the one hand, and the freedom and rights of people, on the other,” Professor Bernal says. “It was fascinating to think about how to achieve a balance between those interests and goals.”

Professor Bernal didn’t expect that one day he would be on the Colombian Constitutional Court, writing opinions interpreting the constitution that was ratified while he was in law school.

“The experience was wonderful in that I was able not only to think about abstract constitutional principles, but I was able to apply those principles to real cases,” Professor Bernal says.

While Professor Bernal enjoyed his time on the court, he was excited when an opportunity arose to teach at the University of Dayton School of Law.

“The students are great students,” Professor Bernal says. “It is wonderful to learn from the debates we have. I can discover new arguments and new points of view. I’m thrilled to be here.”

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