The Status of Unwritten Constitutional Conventions in the United States

19 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2013

See all articles by Keith E. Whittington

Keith E. Whittington

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: January 10, 2013


Unwritten constitutional conventions have long been understood to be integral to the operation of Westminster parliamentary systems. The British legal scholar A.V. Dicey emphasized that "constitutional morality" supplemented legal rules in regulating the exercise of political power and limiting the discretion of government officials. The presence of a written constitution and judicially enforceable constitutional rules has sometimes been thought to render constitutional conventions superfluous, but these unwritten conventions have been common over the course of American history and have played an important role in defining the effective constitution of the polity. Constitutional law always threatens to displace constitutional morality, however, and unwritten conventions are often seen as in tension with the supremacy of the written text and the primacy of constitutional interpretation.

Keywords: constitutional conventions, dicey, amar, norms, unwritten constitution, construction

Suggested Citation

Whittington, Keith E., The Status of Unwritten Constitutional Conventions in the United States (January 10, 2013). University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2013, No. 5, 2013. Available at SSRN:

Keith E. Whittington (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1012
United States
609-258-3453 (Phone)
609-258-1110 (Fax)


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