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Weak constitutionalism and the legal dimension of the constitution
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 March 2022
This article offers a critical discussion of two influential positions in contemporary legal and political theory, which will be referred to as ‘political constitutionalism’ and ‘strong popular sovereignty’. Despite their important differences, both share a sceptical approach to the dominant constitutional practice in liberal democracies, hence they are brought together here under the term ‘weak constitutionalism’. They both highlight the political dimension of the constitution, arguing that democratic legitimacy requires institutional arrangements that give the people and/or their representatives the last word in settling fundamental issues of political morality. By contrast, this article underlines the legal dimension of the constitution as the repository of the moral principles that make possible a practice of public justification in constitutional states. It is from this second constitutional dimension that the critical arguments are developed, both against the desire to take the constitution away from the courts and the aspiration to recognize the constituent power as pre-legal constitution-making faculty.
- Research Article
- Global Constitutionalism , Volume 11 , Issue 3: Populist Challenges to Global Governance: Feminist Perspectives , November 2022 , pp. 494 - 517
- © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press
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12 In my exposition, I will not follow any particular theoretical reconstruction of this tradition. My sole intention is to reflect the moral core included in the constitution of a liberal democracy. As I will argue, this moral core is supposed to be shared by the different moral and political positions that coexist in a democratic constitutional regime, making constructive communication between them possible.
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39 Since this defence of judicial review asserts a normative connection between judicial and public opinion, it cannot be seriously challenged by a critique based on an empirical analysis of that connection. For a critique of Alexy’s theory through the analysis of the actual presence of judicial decisions in the media, see D Oliver-Lalana, ‘Representación argumentativa y legitimidad democrática en las decisiones judiciales’, in L Clérico, JR Sieckmann and AD Oliver-Lalana (eds), Derechos fundamentales, principios y argumentación. Estudios sobre la teoría jurídica de Robert Alexy (Comares, Granada, 2010) 147–76.
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68 Some examples of this approach include Rawls’ idea of public reason and Ronald Dworkin’s explanation of how moral and political conflicts should be dealt with in a democratic society. See Rawls (n 21) 216–20; and R Dworkin, Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2006).
71 The classical formulation of this difference lays in Carl Schmitt’s constitutional theory, which is the main reference for defenders of democratic re-constitution: see Schmitt, C, Constitutional Theory (Seitzer, J trans, Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2008) 150–52Google Scholar.
73 This extraordinary body is convened through the collection of signatures and is activated by popular referendum; its proposals must be ratified by the people before they come into effect. As a channel for the exercise of constituent power, constituent assembly is not subject to any substantive limits stemming from the established legal order.
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80 This point has received numerous theoretical formulations, among which Jürgen Habermas’s co-originality thesis stands out. See Habermas, J, ‘Constitutional Democracy: A Paradoxical Union of Contradictory Principles?’ (2001) 29(6) Political Theory 767 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
82 King (n 78) 8–9: ‘One perceived mistake would be to invoke the idea of popular sovereignty by the people, a sovereign collective identity whose pronouncements for the people can persist over time … [Authorship] is a metaphor … The representatives participate in the joint-authorship exercise, in other words, in the name of their constituencies … Hence the final product is not indicative of unanimous actual authorial intention. It is rather the product jointly endorsed as being adopted under the most legitimate procedure.’
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85 In this sense, democratic re-constitution seems to be the driving conception behind the secessionist demands of some minority nationalisms that uphold their right to decide unilaterally on their own form of political life.
86 This would be the position that refuses to turn the European Union into a federal state, however democratic its procedures, arguing that the principle of democracy requires states to have uncompromised external sovereignty. According to democratic re-constitution, a legitimate European federal state would only be possible through the exercise of constituent power by the European peoples acting as a single political community. For an analysis of this conception in the context of the German Federal Constitutional Court’s decision on the compatibility of the Treaty of Lisbon with the German Basic Law, see Vinx (n 84) 114–24.
88 See section IV above.
90 This standard approach is not only prevalent in constitutional theory but is also behind two of the main judicial doctrines on this topic: the Indian Supreme Court’s ‘basic structure doctrine’ and the Colombian Constitutional Court’s ‘constitutional replacement doctrine’. See Roznai, Y, Unconstitutional Constitutional Amendments (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017) 42–69 Google Scholar; see also Krishnaswamy (n 7) 118; and C Bernal Pulido, ‘Unconstitutional Constitutional Amendments in the Case study of Colombia: An Analysis of the Justification and Meaning of the Constitutional Replacement Doctrine’ (2013) 11 International Journal of Constitutional Law 339.
91 For a broader analysis of the nature of constitutional amendment power from a theory of delegation, see Roznai (n 90) 117–20.
92 Here I leave aside the question of whether such limitations should be subject to substantive judicial review. I believe that judicial review of constitutional amendments will be legitimate if it is a necessary practice to maintain a culture of justification in the political circumstances of a given society. In any case, even if constitutional judges are responsible for specifying the extent of the implicit limits to the amending power, there will still be room for interpretation so that the political powers can respond to judicial determinations.
94 This issue has been subject of extensive debate. Particularly noteworthy is its formulation by John Elster as ‘the paradox of democracy’ and the subsequent reply by Stephen Holmes. See Elster, J, Ulysses and the Sirens (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1979) 93–95 Google Scholar, and Holmes, S ‘Precommitment and the Paradox of Democracy’, in Elster, J and Slagstad, R (eds), Constitutionalism and Democracy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988) 221–25Google Scholar.
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