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Constitutions Unentrenched: Toward an Alternative Theory of Constitutional Design

  • MILA VERSTEEG (a1) and EMILY ZACKIN (a2)

Abstract

T his article highlights a gap between a great deal of constitutional theory and a great deal of the practice of democratic constitution-making. Drawing on data from democratic national and state constitutions, we challenge the consensus among constitutional theorists that a central purpose of constitutionalism is the entrenchment (the fortification against future change) of broad principles. The empirical reality is that the majority of democratic constitutions today are subject to frequent revision, and are therefore ill-equipped to facilitate the entrenchment of their contents. To explore the logic of these unentrenched documents, we identify the historical periods in which different geographic regions moved away from highly entrenched constitutions, and we examine the political contexts of these transformations. We find that, in each context, constitution-makers were attempting to limit the discretion of constitutional interpreters and implementers by drafting highly specific texts and by updating them in response to continually changing circumstances.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Emily Zackin is an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University (ezackin1@jhu.edu). Department of Political, Science 338 Mergenthaler Hall, 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218.
Mila Versteeg is a Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law (versteeg@virginia.edu). University of Virginia School of Law, 580 Massie Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903.

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Constitutions Unentrenched: Toward an Alternative Theory of Constitutional Design

  • MILA VERSTEEG (a1) and EMILY ZACKIN (a2)

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