Constitutional Amendment by Constitutional Desuetude
47 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2014 Last revised: 29 Dec 2015
Date Written: March 1, 2014
Scholars have shown that written constitutions may be informally amended in various ways, for instance by judicial interpretation, statute, or executive action. But scholars have yet to fully appreciate that written constitutions may also be informally amended by desuetude. Informal amendment by constitutional desuetude occurs when a constitutional provision loses its binding force upon political actors as a result of its conscious sustained nonuse and public repudiation by political actors. Though it is a species of informal amendment, constitutional desuetude possesses unique properties. Constitutional desuetude reflects the informal repeal of a constitutional provision as a result of the establishment of a new constitutional convention. Despite its obsolescence, the desuetudinal constitutional provision remains entrenched in the constitutional text. Consequently, although informal amendment generally leaves the constitutional text entrenched, unchanged and politically valid, this particular variation of informal amendment leaves the text entrenched and unchanged but renders it politically invalid. In this paper, I illustrate and theorize the phenomenon of informal amendment by constitutional desuetude with reference to the Canadian Constitution, I construct an analytical framework for identifying constitutional desuetude in other jurisdictions, I distinguish constitutional desuetude from other forms of obsolescence, and I also explore the costs of constitutional desuetude.
Keywords: Constitutional Amendment, Formal Amendment, Informal Amendment, Desuetude, Disallowance, Reservation, Notwithstanding Clause, Section 33, Constitutional Convention
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