Home - Books - “I Love Constitutional Law”, a Conversation with Vaidotas Vaičaitis, a 2017 Joseph P. Kazickas Fellow at Yale
Vaidotas Vaičaitis.
Vaidotas Vaičaitis. Photo: Ridas Damkevičius.

“I Love Constitutional Law”, a Conversation with Vaidotas Vaičaitis, a 2017 Joseph P. Kazickas Fellow at Yale

Ramunė Kubilius.

Vaidotas Vaičaitis.
Vaidotas Vaičaitis.

Vaidotas A. Vaičaitis, an Associate Professor of Law at Vilnius University, is one of two recipients of the Joseph P. Kazickas Fellowships at Yale University for 2017. As Visiting Associate Professor in European Studies at Yale University, he will undertake research and analysis dealing with Lithuania’s current constitutional structure in the context of its ongoing European integration. 

Prior to leaving for the United States, Prof. Vaičaitis shared his thoughts regarding the fellowship and his prospective research at Yale.

You were born in Lithuania and educated there. Would you share with our readers highlights of your academic career and its progression? What issues did your dissertation address?

I graduated from the Law School at Vilnius University in 1993, only a few years after the restoration of Lithuania’s independence and the adoption of our new Constitution in 1992. The University as well as other Lithuanian social institutions were slow to adjust to the realities of the new post-Soviet era. Therefore, after three years of legal practice in the Law Department of the Parliament (Seimas), I decided to return to my studies and was admitted to the PhD program at the same university. I had an especial interest in studying abroad. Thus in 1998, I studied European and International Law at the Amsterdam Law Program in the Netherlands. In 2000, I graduated from the European Academy of Legal Theory in Brussels, Belgium, where I received a Master’s Degree in Legal Theory (LLM). I then returned to Vilnius and defended my PhD thesis in 2001 on the comparative study of constitutional (organic) laws under the 1992 Lithuanian Constitution. I was appointed Associate Professor of Law at Vilnius University in 2003, a post which I continue to hold. My particular area of interest is Lithuanian and comparative constitutional law. In addition to my law degrees, I also have two master degrees from Vilnius University – one in religious studies (2008) and one in history (2014). This additional work allowed me to integrate philosophy and the history of law into my legal studies.

As an active professional you have published and made presentations outside of Lithuania. This will not be the first time you have engaged in academic research abroad — you conducted research at the Library of Congress, and in Rome, as well. Share with our readers some of the highlights of these international academic ventures. 

I was indeed fortunate to receive international experience, for it enriched my understanding of Lithuania’s legal and educational systems. In 1994 and 1995, as a civil servant of the Lithuanian Parliament, together with a number of attorneys and IT specialists, I was invited to the Library of Congress to study how lawyers utilize computer databases and cutting edge technologies in the practice of law. Lawyers have always been deemed to be rather conservative in adapting new technologies. I am very proud to note that Lithuanian lawyers and scholars appreciate the importance of new technologies in their work. Presently, we have free online access to all of our nationally enacted laws and statutes. Later, in 2004, I attended summer courses at the European University Institute at the Academy of European Law, in Florence, Italy, and had semester-long fellowships at the Institute of Comparative Law in Paris, France (2002) and at the Institute for the Study of Regionalism, Federalism and Self-Government in Rome, Italy (2006). During all of these fellowships, the focus of my research was comparative constitutional law.

Vaidotas Vaičaitis speaks at a Constitutional Law Seminar in Lodz, Poland, 2014.
Vaidotas Vaičaitis speaks at a Constitutional Law Seminar in Lodz, Poland, 2014.

What triggered your interest in applying to the Kazickas Fellowship at Yale University? How will you judge the outcome of your fellowship term?

It is premature to attempt to judge any outcome of this fellowship, nevertheless I am honored to be accepted at Yale through the Kazickas Family Foundation Fellowship. As far as I know, I am the first legal scholar from Lithuania to be appointed as Associate Professor at Yale University. Of course, I am aware that the Lithuanian poet and dissident Tomas Venclova was a Professor of Literature for several decades. The libraries at Yale University and its law school are internationally known. Therefore, I am looking forward to using them in my research. I also hope to collaborate with other constitutional scholars at Yale.

You have a special interest in the history of Lithuania’s constitutions, including the most recent one. What is the source of this interest? What do you hope to accomplish during your fellowship at Yale? Do you have any particular goals in mind?

In recent years, I have been investigating the concept of constitutionalism and Lithuanian constitutionalism, in particular. Last year, together with my colleagues at the Vilnius University Law School, we published a study, “History of Lithuanian Constitutionalism” in Lithuanian. This year it will be translated and published in English. What interested me was that the three main contemporary constitutional principles: rule of law, democracy and the protection of human rights were in one way or another reflected in all of the main Lithuanian constitutional documents since the 14th century. We concluded our study with an analysis of Lithuania’s Independence Restoration Act of 1990. Thus, the provisions of the 1992 Lithuanian Constitution and the resultant case law of the Lithuanian Constitutional Court needs to be integrated into future research on the subject. In order to complete our study on Lithuanian constitutionalism, I decided to distance myself from my domestic environment to reflect on international constitutional concepts. I believe I still need to rethink some of my theories, taking into consideration other legal and scientific perspectives, especially American ones. I would be very pleased if my research results would be published in the Yale Law Journal or in some other international journal of law.

Vaidotas Vaičaitis participates in a Constitutional Law Seminar in Moscow, Russia, 2016.
Vaidotas Vaičaitis participates in a Constitutional Law Seminar in Moscow, Russia, 2016.

In addition to your legal research at Yale, what else do you hope to accomplish during your stay in the United States?

Of course our lives are not limited to our professional work. Firstly, being at Yale, I would like to take part in the university’s social and academic life, including attending open lectures by visiting professors. I would like to see how Yale’s academic organism, which we call “the university” functions. Secondly, I would like to cultivate my passion for American culture, including visiting museums, art galleries and the theater. Finally, being in the U.S., I would like to meet with Lithuanian Americans and visit their cultural centers.

You are a member of a number of professional international associations. What are some of the benefits of belonging to such associations?

I am a member of the International Association for the Philosophy of Law (IVR) and the International Association of Constitutional Law (IACL-AIDC) and frequently participate in their congresses and meetings. The last IVR World Congress in 2015 took place in Georgetown University, where at separate workshops I presented two papers: one about the 16th century Lithuanian Statute and another on contemporary issues dealing with the Lithuanian Constitutional Court. International associations provide the opportunity to network and collaborate with scholars inside and outside the university. Because of my memberships, I was recently able to help organize a seminar together with scholars from Hungary, Poland, and Germany. It was beneficial not only for me, but for my students as well. Invitations to become a member of an editorial board of an international legal journal or to take part in scholarly projects and their publications are other examples of advantages of belonging to international networks.

Vaidotas Vaičaitis participates in the reading of Lithuanian deportee names.
Vaidotas Vaičaitis participates in the reading of Lithuanian deportee names, June 2016, Vilnius. Photo: Žygintas Jurevičius.

Has there been any one memorable event or accomplishment in your academic career about which you are particularly proud?

I am pleased that besides law I have also studied philosophy, particularly religious studies, and history. The History of Lithuanian Constitutionalism, published last year by Vilnius University Press, is perhaps my main publishing accomplishment.

You were acquainted with Ambassador Vytautas Dambrava (1920-2016), a contemporary of Joseph P. Kazickas, in whose honor the Yale fellowship is named. What impressed you about Ambassador Dambrava, and how did you become involved with the scholarship named after him at Vilnius University?

Although I first met Ambassador Vytautas Dambrava in 2000, only recently, during the last three or four years of his life, did we become close friends. He was a living example of civic service, jurisprudence and patriotism. I would like to think that I am following his example, by emulating  his scholarship and devotion to our homeland. Just after World War II as a displaced person in Austria, he defended his PhD in Law. He went on to become a prominent American and Lithuanian diplomat. I am pleased that several years ago, at his suggestion, we re-established the Catholic legal fraternity Iustitia at Vilnius University. He himself was a member of this fraternity from 1939 to 1940. Five years ago with his consent, we established a scholarship in his name, to be awarded to law students, who not only excelled academically but who also exhibited civic responsibility and served the community-at-large beyond the halls of the university.

What do you enjoy about teaching law and mentoring law students? 

I remember one of my professors saying that being a teacher let him to talk about what he enjoys most in life and be paid for it. I love constitutional law and everything related to it, especially its historic and philosophical aspects, and I hope to instill this same passion in my students. I also enjoy learning from my students, especially from the international students taking the Erasmus course on comparative constitutional law. It is very satisfying to share what I have learned with those just beginning their scholarly quest. I also enjoy doing research, discovering new theories and approaches to case law, and developing my own theories and concepts.

Vaidotas Vaičaitis (left) with Lithuanian American Community activist Algimantas Gečys.
Vaidotas Vaičaitis (left) with Lithuanian American Community activist Algimantas Gečys at the Lithuanian Franciscan Guest House and Conference Center in Kennebunkport, Maine, in August 2015. Photo: Monika Vygantas Sabalis.

You recently were re-elected president of the Lithuanian Catholic Association Ateitis. Subsequently you were interviewed by the online media portal bernardinai.lt. At that time, you stated that Catholicism and the guiding principles of the Ateitis organization have a role to play in contemporary Lithuania. Why do you believe that this is the case and does Ateitis play a role in your studies and legal scholarship?

It is difficult to say what influence my participation in Ateitis has on my professional academic life. I hope that it does, but others may be better judges of it and more objective at that. I am pleased that together with a number of students, we re-established the Catholic law fraternity, Iustitia, which belongs not only to our university, but is also affiliated with the Ateitis Association. I am convinced that associations such as Ateitis are critical, since they encourage young people to be active citizens, building a civil society in our post-Soviet environment. Our society is, after all, still a transitional democracy. The Ateitis movement, since its inception over one hundred years ago, has been at the forefront of Catholic action and lay apostolate. It is the place where students ought to receive Christian formation, share Christian and civic values, and make enduring friendships. The Ateitis movement should provide the needed lay leadership in rebuilding our society based on social justice and human dignity by following its adopted challenge to renew all things in Christ.

Vaidotas, thank you for your responses. Good luck to you during your stay in the United States and at Yale University.

More information about Vaidotas Vaičaitis and the other Spring 2017 Kazickas Fellow from Lithuania, Jolanta Mickutė, can be found at:

http://www.kff.lt/Two-Scholars-Receive-JPK-Fellowships-at-Yale-University-834.html?articleid=887

For more information about the Joseph P. Kazickas Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Yale  (JPKF), visit:

http://www.kff.lt/JPKF-861.html

or: http://balticstudies.macmillan.yale.edu/grants-and-fellowships.