30 July 2021

Academic Freedom as Democracy’s Last Defense

Open Letter in support of Professor Conrado Hübner Mendes

The right to demand a justification from law enforcement officers who fail to abide by the rule of law is part of the very essence of academic freedom. Without the entitlement to freely criticize and hold legal authorities accountable for their deeds, one can no longer speak in terms of democratic erosion, for there will be no democracy to erode.

Brazil’s Prosecutor General of the Republic, Augusto Aras (the highest prosecutorial authority in the country), and the Federal Supreme Court Justice Kassio Nunes have been showing little respect for the principle of accountability. Despite criticism of their ethical conduct in high profile legal cases with serious impact on Brazilian politics, they pressed criminal charges against Professor Conrado Hübner Mendes, from the University of São Paulo, and attempted to punish him for expressing perfectly legitimate opinions.

The signers of this letter, legal scholars from several regions of the world, hereby express their concern about the endurance of Brazilian democracy and the severe threat to the freedom of expression imposed on Mendes for the opinions expressed in newspaper articles published at Folha de São Paulo.

Criticizing public authorities for any decisions related to their office is a fundamental right, especially when these decisions imply the prosecution of the enemies of the president who appointed this authority to the office or the acquittal of his allies.

In a politically sensitive case, if a prosecutor changes his view about the illegality of a certain action (like the Prosecutor General of the Republic did with regards to corruption accusations against the Chairman of the House of Representatives, after this authority created a large political alliance with President Jair Bolsonaro), or delivers opinions in criminal trials in direct opposition to the case law of the Full Bench of the Federal Supreme Court  (like the Prosecutor General of the Republic did in a case against Jair Bolsonaro’s eldest son, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro), the right to express one’s judgments about these measures and demand for a public justification is an essential part of the freedom of academics, journalists and public intellectuals.

By the same token, if a Justice in the Supreme Court, in opposition to the case-law of his own court, issues a restraining order on Saturday to be executed on Sunday morning, in a case pending for more than five months, academics have a fundamental right to call it “chicanery”. Justice Kassio Nunes acted exactly in this way when he annulled several municipal laws forbidding religious celebrations in the Eastern holiday due to the pandemic of COVID-19. His restraining order was annulled by the Full Bench of the Federal Supreme Court less than a week after it was delivered, but it played a crucial role in reinforcing President Jair Bolsonaro’s COVID-denialism and authorized thousands of people to gather in poorly ventilated indoor spaces while Brazil was suffering 4,000 COVID-related deaths per day.

If academic freedom is impaired and respected intellectuals like Professor Conrado Hubner Mendes are illegitimately punished, Brazil will be taking further steps toward autocracy and authoritarianism, making it even more difficult to call a halt to this tragedy.

This letter is based on a more detailed statement published in Portuguese at Folha de São Paulo and was signed by more than 280 academics.

29 July 2021,



Chantal Mouffe – University of Westminster

Joshua Braver – University of Wisconsin

Stephen Gardbaum – University of California in Los Angeles

Imer Flores – Universidad Autónoma de México

Samuel Issacharoff – New York University

Adrienne Stone – University of Melbourne

Wojciech Sadurski – University of Sydney and Centre for Europe at the University of Warsaw

Heidi Hurd – University of Illinois

Brian H. Bix- University of Minnesota

Ruth Chang – University of Oxford

Raul Sanchez Urribarri – La Trobe University

Sanford Levinson – University of Texas

Liam B Murphy – New York University

Timea Drinoczi – University of Pecs

Julio Ríos Figueroa – Centro de Investigación y Docencia (CIDE)

Gerardo Pisarello – Universidad de Barcelona

Damian Loreti – Universidad de Buenos Aires

Emílio Camacho – Universidad Nacional de Assumpción

Adoración Guamán – Universidad de Valencia

Maria José Fariñas – Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

Baltasar Garzón – Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro – Chair, UN independent international commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Geneva

Ana Micaela Alterio – Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México

Juan González Bertomeu – Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas de la UNAM

Jorge Ernesto Roa Roa – Universidad Externado de Colombia

David Landau – Florida State University College of Law

Rogers M. Smith – University of Pennsylvania

Martin Flaherty – Princeton University

Rosalind Dixon – University of New South Wales

Tom Ginsburg – University of Chicago Law School

Anthony Pereira – King’s College London

Octávio Ferraz – King’s College London

Tom Gerald Daly – University of Melbourne

Jamie Mayerfeld – University of Washington

Howard Schweber – Univ. Wisconsin-Madison

Dragoljub Popović – Union University School of Law Belgrade, Serbia / Former judge of the European Court of Human Rights

Margaret Martin – Western University

Andrei Marmor – Cornell University

Matija Milos – University of Rijeka

Bjarne Melkevik – University of Laval

Gábor Halmai – European Univesity Institute

Stephen Holmes – New York University

Grainne De Burca – New York University

Max Steuer – O.P. Jindal Global University, Jindal Global Law School

Juan Antonio García Amado – University of León

Pierluigi Chiassoni – University of Genova

Pierre Brunet, Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne/Sorbonne Law School

Neil Walker – University of Edinburgh

Geroge Pavlakos – University of Glasgow

Veronica Rodiguez-Blanco – University of Surrey

Manuel Atienza – University of Alicante

Errol P. Mendes – University of Ottawa

Mathew Kramer – University of Cambridge

David Duarte – University of Lisbon

Kevin Toh – University College of London

Jaap Hage – University of Maastricht

Mark Graber – University of Maryland

Giovanni Batista Ratti – University of Genova

Marcin Gorski – University of Lodz

Dennis Patterson – Rutgers University and University of Surrey

Irene Spigno, Academia Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Mexico

Gonzalo Aguilar Cavallo – Universidad de Talca

Mark Rush – Washington and Lee University

Paila Alexandra Sierra Zamora – Universidad Católica de Colombia

Giuseppe Martinico – Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa

Roberto Toniatti – Emeritus Professor – University of Trento

Charles Barzun – University of Virginia

Roberto Gargarella – University of Buenos Aires

Gary J. Jacobsohn. University of Taxas in Austin

Antonia Baraggia – University of Milan

Hugo Tórtora Aravena – Universidad de Playa Ancha Valparaíso

Diana Espino Tapia, Universidad Regiomontana

Pieter-Augustijn Van Malleghem – UC Louvain

Lucia Corso – University of Enna

William D. Araiza – Brooklyn Law School

Gerald J. Postema – Emeritus – University of North Carolina

Jeremy Waldron – New York University

Leonardo García Jaramillo – Universidad EAFIT

Antonella Sciortino – Unipa – Università degli studi di Palermo

Alfredo Contieri – Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II

Lucas Arrimada – Universidad de Buenos Aires

Angela María Jimena Jiménez García – Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia

Augusto Martín de la Vega – Universidad de Salamanca

César Montaño Galarza, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar

Cristhian Pereira Otero – Universidad de Nariño

Daniel E. Florez Muñoz – Universidad de Cartagena

David Mendieta – Universidad de Medellín

Diana Espino Tapia – Universidad Regiomontana

Elsa Guerra Rodríguez – Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar

Ena Carnero Arroyo – Universidad Nacional de Trujillo

Felipe Clavijo Ospina – Universidad El Bosque

Gloria Patricia Lopera Mesa – Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano

Gonzalo Ramirez Cleves – Universidad Externado de Colombia

Gonzalo Aguilar Cavallo – Universidad de Talca

Hugo Tórtora Aravena – Universidad de Playa Ancha, Valparaiso

Liliana Estupiñán Achury – Universidad Libre de Colombia

Luis Domingo Gómez Maldonado – Universidad Santo Tomás y Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano

Marcos Criado de Diego – Universidad Externado de Colombia y Universidad de Extremadura

Maria Cristina Gomez Isaza – Universidad de Antioquia

Marisol Anglés Hernández – Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Mary Luz Tobón Tobón – Universidad Libre de Colombia

Miriam Mora – Universidad de la República Uruguay

Paila Alexandra Sierra Zamora – Universidad Católica de Colombia

Rodrigo Uprimny – Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Vicente Solano Paucay – Universidad de Cuenca

Yudy Andrea Carrillo – Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia

João Pedroso – Universidade de Coimbra

Helena Guimarães – ISMAI

Gabriella De Giorgi Cezzi – Università del Salento

Francesco Tuccari – Università del Salento

Roberto Niembro Ortega – Universidad Iberoamericana

Priscila Machado Martins – Universidad de los Andes

María Alexandra Ruíz – Universidad de Nariño

María Elena Attard Bellido – Universidad Mayor de San Andrés

Jairo Vladimir Llano Franco – Universidad Libre de Colombia

Ofelia Dorado Zúñiga – Universidad Libre de Cali

Wil Waluchow – Emeritus – McMaster University

Jim Gardner – University of Buffalo

Erin F. Delaney – Northwestern Pritzker School of Law

Lisa Hilbink – University of Minnesota

Annarita Iacopino – Universitá Europea di Roma

Ornella Spataro, Universitá di Palermo

Karl-Heinz Ladeur – University of Hamburg

Italo Birocchi, Universitá di Roma, La Sapienza.

Andrés Botero Bernal – Universidad Industrial de Santander

Yezid Carrillo De la Rosa – Universidad de Cartagena y Universidad Libre sede Cartagena

Manuela Royo – Universidad de Talca

António José Avelãs Nunes – Professor Catedrático Jubilado da Faculdade de Direito da Universidade de Coimbra

Boaventura de Souza Santos – Universidade de Coimbra

Brendon Swedlow – Northern Illinois University

Juan Gabriel Gómez Albarello – Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Angélica Cuellar Vázquez – Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Chris Thornhill – University of Manchester

David Dyzenhaus – University of Toronto

Marcela Prieto Rudolphy – USC Gould School of Law

Johan Van der Walt – University of Luxembourg

Juan Gabriel Gómez Albarello – Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Paulo Barrozo – Boston College Law School

Tracy Lightcap – LaGrange College

Carlos Petit – Universidad de Huelva

Mauricio Garcia Villegas – Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Marco Goldoni – University of Glasgow

Sergio Pignuoli Ocampo – University of Buenos Aires

Cláudio Michelon – University of Edinburgh

Trevor Allan – University of Cambridge

Cormac Mac Amhlaigh – University of Edinburgh

Enrique Cáceres Nieto – Universidad Autónoma de Mexico

Wenzel Matiaske – University of Hamburg

Richard Albert – University of Texas at Austin

Martina Caroni – University of Lucerne

Bruce Ackerman – Yale University1)

René Kuppe – Universidade de Viena

Obi Nwakanma – University of Central Florida

Aldo Mascareño – Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez

Yvette Christianse – University of Columbia

Darío Rodríguez – Universidad Diego Portales

Daniel B. Rodriguez – Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

Sonwabile Mnwana – University of Fort Hare

Christoph Möllers – Humboldt University

Katrin Kinzelbach, FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg

Andraž Teršek, University of Primorska

Malcolm Feeley – University of California at Berkeley

Nicole Roughan – University of Auckland

Marina Gascón Abellán – Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha

Bertil Emrah Oder -Koç Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi, Turkey

Stefan Voigt – University of Hamburg

Tamás Barcsi, University of Pécs

Patricia Popelier – University of Antwerp

Scot M. Peterson – University of Oxford

Kenneth Ehrenberg – University of Surrey

Gerd Grözinger – Europa-University Flensburg

Kirsty Keywood – University of Manchester

Günther Ortmann – University Witten-Herdecke

Dorothea Alewell – University of Hamburg

Michael Riegner – Humboldt University Berlin

Philipp Dann – Humboldt University Belin

Siri Gloppen – University of Bergen

Michaela Hailbronner – University of Giessen

James Fowkes – University of Münster

Dieter Grimm – University Humboldt

Werner Nienhüser – University Duisburg

Martin Krygier – UNSW Sydney

To co-sign this open letter, please leave a comment with your name and affiliation!


1 For institutional identification only; the university  does not give its institutional endorsement to the views expressed by its faculty members

SUGGESTED CITATION  , : Academic Freedom as Democracy’s Last Defense: Open Letter in support of Professor Conrado Hübner Mendes, VerfBlog, 2021/7/30, https://verfassungsblog.de/academic-freedom-as-democracys-last-defense/, DOI: 10.17176/20210731-015921-0.