Transitional Justice as Ordinary Justice

Posted: 21 Mar 2003

See all articles by Eric A. Posner

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Adrian Vermeule

Harvard Law School


Theorists of transitional justice study the transition measures used, or eschewed, by new democracies that succeed communist or authoritarian regimes - measures including trials, purges, lustration, reparations, and truth commissions. The theorists tend to oppose transitional measures, portraying them as illiberal and as a distraction from the task of consolidating new democracies. In this Article we argue against that view. The critics of transitional justice have gone wrong by overlooking that transitional measures are common in consolidated legal systems, which themselves constantly undergo political and economic shocks resulting in transitions of greater or lesser degree. Ordinary justice has developed a range of pragmatic tools for managing transitions. Consolidated democracies use trials, purges and reparations to accomplish valuable forward-looking goals without allowing illiberal repression; new democracies can and should use those tools also. Because transitional justice is continuous with ordinary justice, there is no reason to treat transitional-justice measures as presumptively suspect, on either moral or institutional grounds.

Keywords: transitional justice

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A. and Vermeule, Adrian, Transitional Justice as Ordinary Justice. U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 40, Available at SSRN:

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

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Adrian Vermeule

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
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