Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-ndmmz Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-30T14:38:15.895Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Constitutions Unentrenched: Toward an Alternative Theory of Constitutional Design

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 December 2016

MILA VERSTEEG*
Affiliation:
University of Virginia
EMILY ZACKIN*
Affiliation:
Johns Hopkins University
*
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.
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.

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.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

REFERENCES

Acemoglu, Daron, Johnson, Simon, and Robinson, James A.. “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” The American Economic Review 91 (5): 1369–401.Google Scholar
Ackerman, Bruce. 1991. We the People. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Aghion, Phillipe, and Bolton, Patrick. 2003Incomplete Social Contracts.” Journal of the European Economic Association. 1 (1): 3867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Albert, Richard. 2014. “Constitutional Amendment by Constitutional Desuetude.” American Journal of Comparative Law 62 (3): 641–86.Google Scholar
Albert, Richard. 2015. “How Unwritten Constitutional Norms Change Written Constitutions.” Dublin University Law Journal 38 (2): 387418.Google Scholar
Angell, Alan, Schjolden, Line, and Sieder, Rachel. 2005. The Judicialization of Politics in Latin America. New York: Palgrave-McMillan.Google Scholar
Arantes, Rogério Bastos, and Couto, Cláudio G.. 2012. “Constitutionalizing Policy: the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 and its Impact on Governance.” In New Constitutionalism in Latin America, eds. Nolte, Detlef and Schilling-Vacaflor, Almut. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, pp. 203222.Google Scholar
Arato, Andrew. 2014. “Beyond the Alternative Reform or Revolution: Post Sovereign Constitution Making and Latin America.” Working paper.Google Scholar
Balkin, Jack, and Levinson, Sanford. 2001. “Understanding the Constitutional Revolution.” Virginia Law Review 87 (October): 1045–104.Google Scholar
Balkin, Jack M. 2011. Living Originalism. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bánkuti, M., Halmai, G., and Scheppele, Kim Lane. 2012. “Hungary's Illiberal Turn: Disabling the Constitution.” Journal of Democracy 23 (3): 138–46.Google Scholar
Beard, Charles A. 1913. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. New York: Macmillan Co. Google Scholar
Bickel, Alexander M. 1962. The Least Dangerous Branch: the Supreme Court at the Bar of Politics. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.Google Scholar
Brennan, William J. Jr. 1991. “Why Have a Bill of Rights?Valparaiso University Law Review 26 (1): 119.Google Scholar
Bridges, Amy. 2015. Democratic Beginnings: Founding the Western States. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buchanan, James, and Tullock, Gordon. 1962. The Calculus of Consent: The Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Buck, Solon Justus. 1913. The Granger Movement: A Study of Agricultural Organization and its Political, Economic and Social Manifestations, 1870-1880. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Contiades, Xenophon, and Fotiadou, Alkmene. 2013. “Models of Constitutional Change”, In Engineering Constitutional Change A Comparative Perspective on Europe, Canada and the USA, ed. Contiades, Xenophon. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 417468.Google Scholar
Cooter, Robert. 2000. The Strategic Constitution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Cross, Frank B. 2001. “The Error of Positive Rights.” UCLA Law Review, 48 (4), 857924.Google Scholar
Dahl, Robert A. 1957. “Decision-Making in a Democracy: The Supreme Court as a National Policy-Maker.” Journal of Public Law 6 (Fall): 279–95.Google Scholar
Dinan, John J. 2006. The American State Constitutional Tradition. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.Google Scholar
Dinan, John J. 2007. “Foreword: Court-Constraining Amendments and the State Constitutional Tradition.” Rutgers Law Journal 38 (Summer): 9831040.Google Scholar
Dixon, Rosalind. 2016. “Constitutional Drafting and Distrust.” International Journal of Constitutional Law 13 (4): 819846.Google Scholar
Dixon, Rosalind and Holden, Richard. 2012. “Constitutional Amendment Rules: The Denominator Problem.” In Comparative Constitutional Design, ed. Ginsburg, Tom. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Dixon, Rosalind, and Landau, David. 2016. “Competitive Democracy and the Constitutional Minimum Core.” In Assessing Constitutional Performance, eds. Ginsburg, Tom and Huq, Aziz. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp 268–93.Google Scholar
Dworkin, Ronald. 1978. Taking Rights Seriously. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Eaton, Amasa M. 1892. “Recent State Constitutions.” Harvard Law Review 6 (3): 109–24.Google Scholar
Eisenstadt, Todd A. et al. 2015. “When Talk Trumps Text: The Democratizing Effects of Deliberation during Constitution-Making, 1974–2011.” American Political Science Review 109 (03), 592612.Google Scholar
Eisgruber, Christopher L. 2001. Constitutional Self-government. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Elkins, Zachary, Ginsburg, Tom, and Melton, James. 2009. The Endurace of National Constitutions. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Elster, Jon. 1979. Ulysses and the Sirens. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Ely, John Hart. 1980. Democracy and Distrust: A Theory of Judicial Review. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Eskridge, William N. Jr., and Ferejohn, John. 2001. “Super-Statutes.” Duke Law Journal 50 (March): 1215–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ferejohn, John. 2002. “Judicial Review in a Global Context.” NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policies 6: 4959.Google Scholar
Fitzgibbon, Russell H. 1945. “Constitutional Development in Latin America: A Synthesis.” The American Political Science Review 39 (3): 511–22.Google Scholar
Fritz, Christian. 1994. “Rethinking the American Constitutional Tradition: National Dimensions in the Formation of State Constitutions.” California Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook 1: 103–22.Google Scholar
Fusaro, Carlo, and Oliver, Dawn. 2011. “Changing Constitutions” In How Constitutions Change. Eds. Oliver, Dawn and Fusaro, Carlos. Oxford: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
Gardner, James A. 1992. “The Failed Discourse of State Constitutionalism.” Michigan Law Review 90 (February): 761837.Google Scholar
Gardbaum, Stephen. 2008. “The Myth and The Reality of American Constitutional Exceptionalism,” Michigan Law Review 107 (3): 391466.Google Scholar
Gardbaum, Stephen. 2013. The New Commonwealth Model of Constitutionalism: Theory and Practice. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gargarella, Roberto. 2013. Latin American Constitutionalism, 1810-2010: The Engine Room of the Constitution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Gillman, Howard. 2002. “How Political Parties Can Use the Courts to Advance Their Agendas: Federal Courts in the United States, 1875-1891.” American Political Science Review 96 (September): 511–24.Google Scholar
Ginsburg, Tom. 2003. Judicial Review in New Democracies: Constitutional Courts in Asian Cases. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Ginsburg, Tom. 2010. “Constitutional Specificity, Unwritten Understandings and Constitutional Agreement. In Constitutional Topography: Values and Constitutions, eds. Sajó, A. and Uitz, R.. Utrecht, the Netherlands: Eleven International Publishing, 6994.Google Scholar
Ginsburg, Tom, and Melton, James. 2014. “Does the Constitutional Amendment Rule Matter at All? Amendment Cultures and the Challenges of Measuring Amendment Difficulty.” University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics Working Paper No. 682 (2D Series).Google Scholar
Ginsburg, Tom, and Posner, Eric A.. 2010. “Subconstitutionalism.” Stanford Law Review 62 (6): 1584–628.Google Scholar
Ginsburg, Tom, and Simpser, Alberto. 2013. Constitutions in Authoritarian Regimes. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Ginsburg, Tom, et al. 2009. “Does the Process of Constitution-Making Matter?Annual Review of Law and Social Science 5: 201–23.Google Scholar
Gloppen, Siri, Gargarella, Roberto, and Skaar, Elin. 2004. Democratization and the Judiciary: The Accountability Function of Courts in New Democracies. London: Frank Cass.Google Scholar
Graber, Mark A. 1993. “The Nonmajoritarian Difficulty: Legislative Deference to the Judiciary.” Studies in American Political Development 7 (Spring): 3573.Google Scholar
Griffin, Stephen M. 1996. American Constitutionalism: From Theory to Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Hadfield, Gillian K., and Weingast, Barry R.. 2013. Constitutions as Coordination Devices in Institutions, Property Rights, and Economic Growth: The Legacy of Douglass North, eds. Galiani, S. and Sened, I.. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
Hammons, Christopher W. 1999. “Was James Madison Wrong? Rethinking the American Preference for Short, Framework-Oriented Constitutions.” American Political Science Review 93 (July): 837–49.Google Scholar
Hardin, Russell. 1999. Liberalism, Constitutionalism and Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Hirschl, Ran. 2004. Towards Juristocracy: The Origins and Consequences of the New Constitutionalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Holmes, Stephen. 1995. Passions and Constraints: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Howard, A. E. Dick. 1968. “’For the Common Benefit:’ Constitutional History in Virginia as a Casebook for the Modern Constitution-Maker.” Virginia Law Review 54 (June): 816.Google Scholar
Issacharoff, Samuel. 2015. Fragile Democracy: Contested Power in the Area of Constitutional Courts. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Jackson, Vicki C. 2008. “What's in a Name? Reflections on Timing, Naming and Constitution-Making.” William and Mary Law Review 49: 1249–305.Google Scholar
Jefferson, Thomas. [1789] 1958. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Ed. Boyd, Julian P.. et al., 15: 392–7. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Jung, Courtney, Hirschl, Ran, and Rosevear, Evan. 2014. Economic and Social Rights in National Constitutions. American Journal of Comparative Law 62 (4): 1043–98.Google Scholar
Kahana, Tsvi. 2013. “Majestic Constitutionalism: The Notwithstanding Mechanism in Israel.” Israeli Constitutionalism from a Comparative Perspective, eds. Barak, Aaron, Barak-Erez, Daphne, and Spair, Gideon. Oxford: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
Kaplow, Louis. 1992. “Rules Versus Standards: An Economic Analysis.” Duke Law Journal 42: 557629.Google Scholar
Kapiszewski, Diana, and Taylor, Matthew M.. 2013. “Compliance: Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Explaining Adherence to Judicial Rulings.” Law & Social Inquiry 38 (3): 803–35.Google Scholar
Kelsen, Hans. 1929. “Wesen and Entwicklung der Staatsgerichtbarkeit” in The Guardian of the Constitution: Hans Kelsen and Carl Schmitt on the Limits of Constitutional Law, edited and translated by Vinx, Lars. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Kelsen, Hans. 1931. “Wer soll der Huter der Versfassung Sein?” in The Guardian of the Constitution: Hans Kelsen and Carl Schmitt on the Limits of Constitutional Law, edited and translated by Vinx, Lars. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Klug, Heinz. 2015Constitutional Amendments.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 11: 95110.Google Scholar
Lalander, Rickard. 2012. “Neo-Constitutionalism in Twenty-First Century Venezuela: Participatory Democracy, Deconcentrated Decentralization or Centralized Populism?” In New Constitutionalism in Latin America, eds. Nolte, Detlef and Schilling-Vacaflor, Almut. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
La Porta, Raphael, et al. 2004. “Judicial Checks and Balances.” Journal of Political Economy 112 (2): 445–70.Google Scholar
Law, David S. 2009. “A Theory of Judicial Power and Judicial Review.” Georgetown Law Journal 97: 723801.Google Scholar
Leahy, James E., and Dakota, North. 2003. The North Dakota State Constitution: A Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
Lerner, Hannah. 2011. Making Constitutions in Deeply Divided Societies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Lesaffer, Randall. 2009. European Legal History: A Cultural and Political Perspective, trans. Arriens, Jan. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Levinson, Daryl J. 2011. “Parchment and Politics: The Positive Puzzle of Constitutional Commitment.” Harvard Law Review 124 (January): 657746.Google Scholar
Levinson, Sanford. 1995. “Introduction: Imperfection and Amendability.” In Responding to Imperfection: The Theory and Practice of Constitutional Amendment, ed. Levinson, Sanford. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 312.Google Scholar
Lijphardt, Arend. 1999. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Democracies. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Llewellyn, Karl N. 1930. The Bramble Bush: Some Lectures on Law and Its Study. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Lorenz, Astrid. 2005. “How to Measure Constitutional Rigidity: Four Concepts and Two Alternatives.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 17 (July): 339–61.Google Scholar
Lupia, Arthur, et al. 2010. “Why State Constitutions Differ in Their Treatment of Same-Sex Marriage.” Journal of Politics 72 (4): 1222–35.Google Scholar
Lutz, Donald S. 1994. “Toward a Theory of Constitutional Amendment.” American Political Science Review 88 (June): 355–70.Google Scholar
Madison, James, Hamilton, Alexander, and Jay, John. [1788] 2014. The Federalist Papers. Ed. Miller, Jim. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications: 253–7.Google Scholar
Marmor, Andrei. 2007. Law in the Age of Pluralism. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
McBain, Howard Lee, and Rogers, Lindsay. 1922. The New Constitutions of Europe. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company.Google Scholar
Nardi, Dominic, and Tsebelis, George. 2014. “A Long Constitution is a (Positively) Bad Constitution: Evidence from OECD Countries.” British Journal of Political Science 46 (2): 479–80.Google Scholar
Negretto, Gabriel L. 2014. Making Constitutions: Presidents, Parties, and Institutional Choice in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Niemeyer, E. Victor. 1974. Revolution at Querétaro: The Mexican Constitutional Convention of 1916-1917. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
North, Douglass C., and Weingast, Barry R.. 1989. “Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England.” Journal of Economic History 49 (4): 803–32.Google Scholar
Parenti, M. 2011. Democracy for the Few, 9th Ed. Boston: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
Persson, Thorsten, et al. 1997. “Separation of Powers and Political Accountability.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 112 (4): 1163–202.Google Scholar
Posner, Eric. 2013. The Twilight of Human Rights. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Ralston, Hayden. 1922. “New European Constitutions: In Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croates and Slovenes.” The American Political Science Review 16 (2): 211–27.Google Scholar
Raz, Joseph. 2009. Between Authority and Interpretation: On the Theory of Law and Practical Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Rodríguez-Garavito, César. 2011. “Beyond the Courtroom: The Impact of Judicial Activism on Socioeconomic Rights in Latin America.” Texas Law Review 89 (7): 1669–98.Google Scholar
Rodríguez-Raga, Juan Carlos. 2011. “Strategic Deference in the Colombian Constitutional Court, 19922006.” In Courts in Latin America, eds. Helmke, Gretchen and Ríos-Figueroa, Julio. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 8198.Google Scholar
Roznai, Yanev. 2013. “Unconstitutional Constitutional Amendments: The Migration and Success of a Constitutional Idea.” American Journal of Comparative Law 61 (3): 657719.Google Scholar
Rubenfeld, Jed. 2008. Freedom in Time: A Theory of Constitutional Self-Government. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Scalia, Antonin, and Gutmann, Amy. 1997. A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law: An Essay. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Schauer, Fredrick. 1995. “Amending the Presuppositions of a Constitution.” In Responding to Imperfection: The Theory and Practice of Constitutional Amendment, ed. Levinson, Sanford. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 145163.Google Scholar
Scheppele, Kim Lane. 2006. “Democracy by Judiciary. Or Why Courts Can Be More Democratic Than Parliaments.” In Rethinking the Rule of Law after Communism, eds. Czarnota, Adam, Krygier, Martin, and Sadurski, Wojciech. Budapest: Haworth Press, pp. 295322.Google Scholar
Schwartzberg, Melissa. 2013. Counting the Many: The Origins and Limits of Supermajority Rule (New York: New York University).Google Scholar
Schwartz, Herman. 1999. “A Brief History of Judicial Review.” In The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies, eds. Schedler, Andreas, Diamond, Larry Jay and Plattner, Marc F.. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
Sikkink, Kathryn. 2011. The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Google Scholar
Stelzer, Manfred. 2011. The Constitution of the Republic of Austria: A Contextual Analysis. Portland, OR: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
Sunstein, Cass R. 1991. “Constitutionalism and Secession.” The University of Chicago Law Review 58 (2): 633–70.Google Scholar
Sweet, Alec Stone. 2003. “Why Europe Rejected American Judicial Review: And Why It May Not Matter.” Michigan Law Review 101 (8): 2744–80.Google Scholar
Tarr, G. Alan. 1998. Understanding State Constitutions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Tushnet, Mark. 2008. Weak Courts, Strong Rights: Judicial Review and Social Welfare Rights in Comparative Constitutional Law. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Versteeg, Mila, and Zackin, Emily. 2014. “American Constitutional Exceptionalism Revisited.” The University of Chicago Law Review 81: 16411707.Google Scholar
Waldron, Jeremy. 1999. Law and Disagreement. New York: Oxford University Press, 81: 16411707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wallis, John Joseph. 2005. “Constitutions, Corporations, and Corruption: American States and Constitutional Change, 1842 to 1852.” The Journal of Economic History 65 (1): 211–56.Google Scholar
Waluchow, Will. 2012. “Constitutionalism.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/constitutionalism/ (Sept. 11, 2012).Google Scholar
Weingast, Barry. 1997. Political Foundations of Democracy and the Rule of Law. American Political Science Review 91 (2): 245–63.Google Scholar
Whittington, Keith. 1999. Constitutional Interpretation: Textual Meaning, Original Intent, and Judicial Review. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.Google Scholar
Whittington, Keith E. 2007. Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy: The Presidency, the Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Whittington, K. E. 2015. “Against Very Entrenched Constitutions.” Wisconsin Law Review Online, 2015, 12–8.Google Scholar
Young, Ernest. 2008. “Constitutive and Entrenchment Functions of Constitutions: A Research Agenda.” University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law 10 (2): 399411.Google Scholar
Zackin, Emily. 2013. Looking for Rights in all the Wrong Places: Why State Constitutions Contain America's Positive Rights. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Submit a response

Comments Test

No Comments Test have been published for this article.