Democracy and Constitutional Change

20 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2010 Last revised: 7 Apr 2015

See all articles by Allan Hutchinson

Allan Hutchinson

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Joel I. Colón-Ríos

Victoria University of Wellington, Te Herenga Waka - Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 24, 2010


The relationship between democracy and constitutions is a long and fractitious one. Those who lean towards the constitutionalist side have tended to perceive democracy as a threat to political order and the preservation of important values, whereas those who take a more democratist stance tend to treat constitutions as elite hindrances to popular rule as much as anything else. In this paper, we will give the constitutionalist thesis a broader theoretical and political scrutiny. By way of explanation, we will address and recommend the possibilities and problems for putting into practical operation such an anti-constitutionalist stance; the recent experience of the U.S. State of California offers itself as a good forcing-ground for these ideas. In short, from a democratic standpoint, the challenge for the citizenry is not so much about defining the values of constitutions, but constitutions whose change is outside the scope of popular decision making, supposed to exclusively take place through judicial interpretation or through an amendment formula designed precisely to make change difficult and unlikely. Too often, constitutions place checks and limits on democratic participation in the name of some other set of vaunted truths or elite-favouring values. For the strong democrat, it is formal constitutions and their institutional paraphernalia that do more to inhibit and dull democracy’s emancipatory potential than to nurture and fulfil it.

Keywords: Democracy, Constitution, Constitutionalist, anti-constitutionalist, U.S. State of California, judicial interpretation

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Hutchinson, Allan and Colón-Ríos, Joel I., Democracy and Constitutional Change (November 24, 2010). Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, No. 127, 2011, Osgoode CLPE Research Paper No. 48/2010, Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 16/2011, Available at SSRN:

Allan Hutchinson (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
(416) 736-5048 (Phone)

Joel I. Colón-Ríos

Victoria University of Wellington, Te Herenga Waka - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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