Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 March 2019
The unconstitutional constitutional amendment doctrine has emerged as a highly successful, albeit still controversial, export in comparative constitutional law. The doctrine has often been defended as protecting a delegation from the people to the political institutions that they created. Other work has noted the doctrine’s potential utility in guarding against abusive constitutionalism. In this article, we consider how these justifications fare when expanded to encompass claims against the original constitution itself, rather than a later amendment to the text. That is, beyond the unconstitutional constitutional amendment doctrine, can or should there be a doctrine of an unconstitutional constitution? Our question is spurred by a puzzling 2015 case from Honduras where the Supreme Court held an unamendable one-term limit on presidential terms, as well as protective provisions punishing attempts to alter that limit, to be unconstitutional. What is particularly striking about the case is that these provisions were not later amendments to the constitution, but rather parts of the original 1982 constitution itself. Thus, this article examines the possibility of ‘an unconstitutional constitution’, what we predict to be the next trend in global constitutionalism.
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36 Art 239 was amended in technical respects by subsequent decrees, but the core aspects of the existing provision are identical to those in the original 1982 constitution.
37 Constitución de la República de Honduras [Constitution] art 239 (Hond).
38 Ginsburg, T, Elkins, Z and Melton, J, ‘On the Evasion of Executive Term Limits’ (2011) 52 William and Mary Law Review 1807, 1810.Google Scholar The authors remark there that the origins of such a ‘poison pill’ provision are uncertain, though the general institution may be traced to fifth century BCE Athens (referring to Doron, G and Harris, M, Term Limits (Lexington Books, Lanham, MD, 2001) 5.Google Scholar
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51 See ‘Honduras: Hernández busca la reelección y la oposición explora una posible alianza’ 13 March 2017) CNN Espanol, <http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2017/03/13/honduras-hernandez-busca-la-reeleccion-y-la-oposicion-explora-una-posible-alianza/>.
52 Ibid section 18 (noting that all the provisions involved had the ‘same rank and constitutional vigilance’, but that the Court could ‘choose one interpretation over another or even apply one norm over another or disapply one’ in order to maintain ‘the articulation and coherence’ of the constitutional text).
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